Repairs on damaged Cook Inlet oil platform could take until May

Posted: Wednesday, April 24, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Cook Inlet oil platform that was damaged by a weekend flash fire could be out of service until mid-May, according to Unocal Corp.

Federal safety regulators are investigating the cause of Saturday's fire, which injured four workers and has shut down one-fifth of the inlet's oil production.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration began investigating Monday, while Outside specialists helped workers stabilize the oil well where natural gas had escaped and caught fire. Several other federal and state agencies also are investigating.

Federal records show the King Salmon Platform has undergone government workplace safety inspections only once in the past decade, in 1996, the Anchorage Daily News reported. The platform lies in 110 feet of water in Trading Bay, about 55 miles southwest of Anchorage.

Unocal, co-owner of the platform, said critical valves designed to prevent a well blowout are functioning but were damaged during the fire. It could take until May 10 before the platform resumes full production of 7,000 barrels a day.

''Until a new blowout preventor can be installed on top of the damaged preventor and a plug placed in the well, the condition is considered stable but serious,'' a Unocal statement said.

Saturday's fire occurred when a stream of natural gas ignited as contract workers were pulling two miles of well tubing to install a new oil pump in a well.

Unocal's drill contractor, Nabors Alaska Drilling Inc., said the job was a routine procedure to boost production at one of the platform's 16 active wells.

Workers had to scramble to shut down all wells and fight the blaze. Unocal said it evacuated 33 of 52 workers, including the four injured men. They put out the fire within 45 minutes.

The injured are employed by Nabors and Anchorage-based Centrilift Baker Hughes. Three were treated over the weekend at area hospitals.

The fourth, who works for Nabors, was in satisfactory condition Monday at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle with burns on his hand and face, according to Jim Brown, vice president of finance at Nabors.

The fire was the first serious blaze on an Inlet platform since 1987, when a natural gas blowout at the Steelhead Platform burned uncontrolled for a week.

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