SYDNEY, Nov. 2 (UPI) — A massive fire on a leaking oil rig off the coast of West Australia continued to burn out of control Monday.
The fire broke out on Sunday as workers on the West Atlas rig were attempting to plug the leak that has been spewing oil into the Timor Sea for more than two months.
The rig, operated by Thailand-based PTTEP Australasia, is located about 125 miles off the Kimberley coast. The leaking oil covers an area of at least 5,800 square miles.
“The measures which we have been able to take so far can only mitigate the fire, they will not stop the fire,” PTTEP Australasia Chief Financial Officer Jose Martins told reporters Sunday.
On Monday, Martins admitted, “The fire is out of control.” He said he did not know how the fire erupted or what caused the leak.
“What we are trying to do is stop it by injecting heavy mud into the relief well, that is the best well and we have the world’s best working on that,” Martins said. The 113 workers on board the West Triton drilling rig, called in to plug the leak, as well as those from nearby work vessels were not injured, he said.
Australian Resources Minister Martin Ferguson said Monday there will be a “full and independent” inquiry into the leak and subsequent fire. ”If (PTTEP) are found to have been at fault with respect to any of their responsibilities then potential action will be … considered,” Ferguson said.
“We are in a scenario where a fire continues to rage out of control on the rig, four attempts to plug the gap have failed and on conservative estimates around 28,000 barrels of oil have spewed into the ocean. That’s more than 4.5 million liters of oil,” John Carey, manager of the Kimberley Conservation Program, Pew Environment Group, told United Press International Monday.
Carey said he was “deeply concerned” by the lack of detail and information from both the company and the government on the oil spill in the first two months. Transparency has increased only in the past week, he said, “when it became clear that media scrutiny and community concern was again intensifying.”
“It is also extraordinary that the Australian public still has not been told how the leak happened. The Australia community has a right to know what went wrong,” Carey said.
Last week scientists surveying the effects of the oil spill compared its long-term effects to the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill near Alaska, saying the disaster would have a detrimental effect on the environment and the local marine life.
“We are very concerned that the fire will be adding to the toxic cocktail of the oil spill which has already impacted on this highly pristine area,” Carey said, referring to it as a “marine life super highway” and “one of the least impacted and untouched ecosystems left on the planet.”
Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt Monday said Prime Minister Kevin Rudd should convene a national emergency task force to tackle the disaster. For his part, Greens leader Bob Brown criticized the government’s handling of the disaster, saying Rudd should order the resignation of Resources Minister Martin Ferguson and take over the handling of the spill personally.
Copyright 2009 by United Press International