What Now for Gulf? Fire Complicates Drill Debate

Bruce Bullock, director of SMU's Maguire Energy Institute, talks about the political fallout from last week's fire on a Gulf drilling rig.

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — What now for the Gulf? News of another oil rig fire in the Gulf of Mexico, so soon after the BP oil spill, has set off a wave of anxiety along the Gulf Coast and prompted calls for the government to extend its six-month ban on deepwater drilling.

Just when it seemed the Obama administration might be ready to lift the unpopular ban, the fire raises new questions about the dangers of offshore drilling, leaving the industry wondering when it can get back to work.

"Anything that casts any kind of shadow on the industry right now certainly complicates lifting the moratorium," said Bruce Bullock, director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University in Texas. "It makes it difficult to continue to say that (the BP spill) is an aberration."

But while initial reports were frightening, Bullock and other experts said Thursday's platform fire is unlikely to have a lasting effect.

Unlike the April explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig — which killed 11 people and led to the largest offshore oil spill in the nation's history — the fire at the Mariner Energy Inc. platform 100 miles south of Louisiana killed no one and sent no crude gushing into the water.

"There's over 100 fires in the Gulf in a given year. Were it not for the BP incident this would receive very little coverage," Bullock said. "This could have happened in a meat factory or a paint factory or anywhere else."

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