Saw may have sparked fire on Cook Inlet oil platform

Posted: Thursday, April 25, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A federal safety agency and two oil companies are investigating whether a power saw ignited the Cook Inlet oil platform Saturday and injure four workers.

Officials at Nabors Alaska Drilling Inc. said Wednesday that a worker might have been using a power saw on the platform when natural gas suddenly escaped and caught fire.

Whether the saw motor gave off a spark and ignited the gas is under investigation, said Jim Brown, a vice president with Nabors.

A lawyer at a union for Nabors workers said he spoke with a federal investigator Wednesday and was also told the saw is under review.

''Our concern is that the company did not provide spark-resistant tools to the workers, but instead gave them a Sawzall (power saw), which unfortunately can ignite gases because it produces sparks,'' said Kevin Dougherty a lawyer with the Alaska Laborers union.

Saturday's fire happened on the King Salmon Platform, about 55 miles southwest of Anchorage, as workers were pulling two miles of well tubing to install a new oil pump in the well. Unocal Corp. owns the platform and contracted with Nabors to install the pump to boost the well's production.

Three Nabors workers were injured in the flash fire, including one who remains hospitalized in Seattle with burns to his hand and face. A worker at Anchorage-based Centrilift Baker Hughes was also injured in the fire.

The platform, which supplies one-fifth of Cook Inlet's 34,000 barrels of oil a day, is shut down this week as workers repair the fire-damaged well. Unocal said the platform should return to normal production between this weekend and May 10.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other government agencies are looking into the accident.

John Haynes, health and safety manager for Nabors, said Unocal gave permission to allow workers to use the saw. But in a separate interview, Brown said ''it is a little premature to speculate about the work permit.''

A Unocal spokeswoman said her company has heard unsubstantiated reports about the saw and is doing its own investigation.

Mike Pearson, a former Nabors employee and union representative, said power saws are dangerous to operate on drill rigs because their motors generate sparks. To avoid fires, he said, workers often use hydraulic or pneumatic clippers while pulling well tubing.

''The Sawzall was the wrong tool for the wrong job,'' he said.

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