NEW ORLEANS // Natural gas spewed uncontrolled from a well off the Louisiana coast yesterday after a blowout that forced the evacuation of 44 workers aboard a drilling rig, authorities said.
A federal official confirmed later that a fire broke out on the well, about 55 miles off the Louisiana coast in the Gulf of Mexico.
Experts from Wild Well Control Inc. were to assess the well site overnight and develop a plan to shut down the flow of gas, said Jim Noe, executive vice president of Hercules Offshore Inc, owner of the drilling rig where the blowout occurred.
Mr Noe stressed that gas, not oil, was flowing from the well. He said it's an important distinction because gas wells in relatively shallow areas - this one was in 154 feet of water - sometimes tend to clog with sand, effectively snuffing themselves out.
"That is a distinct possibility at this point," he said. "But until we have our Wild Well Control personnel on the rig, we won't know much more."
The Coastguard and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, or BSEE, kept state and coastal officials apprised of the well's status.
"According to federal officials, there is no imminent danger at this time," said Kevin Davis, head of the Louisiana governor's homeland security office said.
Still, the Coastguard kept nautical traffic out of an area within 500 meters of the site.
The Federal Aviation Administration restricted aircraft up to 2,000 feet above the area. BSEE said a firefighting vessel with water and foam capabilities would reach the scene by Tuesday night.
BSEE said inspectors flying over the site soon after the blowout saw a light sheen covering an area about a half-mile by 50 feet. However, it was dissipating quickly.
Earlier this month, a gas well flowed for several days before being sealed off the Louisiana coast.
In 2010, an oil rig exploded off the state's coast, leading to a blowout that spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf in the worst offshore disaster in the United States.
Coastal officials stressed that Tuesday's blowout was nothing of that magnitude.