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Oil mishap averted in Chilean rig fire

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Staff Writers
Buenos Aires (UPI) Sep 9, 2010
Rescuers called to a Chilean oil rig in the South Atlantic waters averted an oil spill mishap after the installation was engulfed by fire twice in a matter of hours.

Argentine navy crews that rushed to the rescue said the rig, operating about 9 miles southeast of Cape Virgenes near Argentina's Santa Cruz province in the southern Patagonia region, caught fire early Wednesday and again a few hours later after its crew of eight was moved to safety.

The fire started in the living quarters aboard the AM-2 rig operated by Sipetrol, the Argentine subsidiary of Chile's Empresa Nacional de Petroleo de Chile. The rig is part of ENAP's global operations that include units in Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Iran and Yemen.

South American oil operators have faced closer scrutiny and the media have put out nightmare scenarios about an oil spill in the continent's seas since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry.

Although few officials admit it, the BP oil spill put a damper on Latin American countries' ambitious plans to undertake deep-water drilling for hydrocarbons prospecting. Brazil, with the largest number of deep-water fields discovered in recent years, came under pressure from environmentalists. The Gulf of Mexico disaster gave Argentina fresh grounds to challenge oil exploration in the Falkland Islands, a British overseas territory contested by Buenos Aires.

The fire aboard AM-2 caused shutdown of production operations and there was no immediate report of any spill or leakage, Argentine navy officials reported from the scene.

The rig is positioned at the eastern access to the Magellan Strait, the 350-mile narrow passage way connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans south of the Latin America mainland, about 1,680 miles south of Buenos Aires.

When the fire broke out on the rig, Argentine tugboat Golondrina del Mar was in the vicinity and able to respond, Argentine navy officials said.

"It was put out initially, but reignited later. ... The (rig) safety chief said the oil wells are shut off," the navy said in a statement. There were no reports of an oil spill, said the navy.

The platform's current production is quite small and officials have left unclear when they may resume operations. An investigation under way will try to determine the cause of the fire, they said.

The fire on the rig came after storms caused by Typhoon Malaou hit a Chinese rig off China's northeastern coast. Two members of 36 crew went missing after stormy waters struck the rig. Rescue teams reached and saved 34 members of the crew.

The area was hit by Typhoon Malou before it reached central Japan.

The Chinese platform was linked to the Shengli oil field, off Dongying in Shandong province, the second largest oil field in China operated by Sinopec refining company.

Storms hit the rig, causing it to list after partial collapse. Sinopec said no oil was spilled in the mishap.

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