When a shallow-water gas drilling rig owned by the Hercules Offshore company caught fire in the Gulf of Mexico yesterday, every worker was evacuated. At first it was just gas blasting out into the air. All the failsafes had failed to be safe. Workers ran for safety.
Since then the gas has caught fire and is blasting into the sky like a giant flamethrower. The incident brings back not-too-distant memories of the Deepwater horizon oil spill that is still being felt along the gulf shores, and for which BP is still putting out feel-good commercials.
But the question on everyone's mind now is: how long will this thing go on? And the answer could be: for weeks.
There is a safety zone around the rig, which is crumpling and collapsing under all the heat and its own weight. No one can get within five miles of the scene, with an enforced U.S. Coast Guard cordon ensuring safety.
So, how to put out the fire? An old Chinese proverb says, "Where there is no wood, the fire goes out." Or in this case, "Where there is no gas…" Engineers are plotting how to cut off the flow of gas to the blazing rig. And one idea is to drill another well "upstream" of the current one, taking the pressure and diverting the flow. Once the fire is out, workers could plug it with cement. Or they could inject cement "upstream" and plug it from there.
The only kicker is, it could take weeks to drill another well.
Shares of Hercules, the owner of the all, have slipped since the accident. They have lost $83 million so far in share price drop alone, to say nothing of the loss of equipment and earnings.