World’s Biggest Oil Rig Is Sinking

Sunday, March 18, 2001
The world's biggest offshore oil rig, hit by blasts that apparently killed 10 people, may sink in the next two days, the rig's Brazilian owners said on Friday, raising fears of environmental damage. With chances of saving the listing rig fading, the president of state oil company Petrobras Henri Philippe Reichstul also said the possibility of finding any of nine missing workers alive after Thursday's blasts was "very remote." "Petrobras is in mourning," he said. So far one person has been confirmed dead after three powerful blasts, whose cause is unknown, rocked the rig with 175 workers aboard. Off the coast of Rio de Janeiro state, the giant 40-story rig's deck is now dipping into the water. If it sinks and damages shutters of underwater wells, it could cause Brazil's worst environmental catastrophe, according to engineers. Petrobras, which has experienced environmental disasters over the last few years, said it had five ships around the rig able to contain a potential spill. "The prospects of stabilizing the platform are diminishing," Reichstul said, adding that the company, Brazil's biggest, was doing everything possible to save the rig. Workers were pumping nitrogen into the damaged hull of the platform to keep it afloat. The accident has jeopardized Petrobras' oil production goals. The rig is insured for $500 million. "If the rig sinks there is the distinct possibility that some or all of the 21 pipelines could rupture," said Argemio Pertence, director of the Association of Engineers who worked for Petrobras for 25 years. "It would be a catastrophe." He said that if it does not sink there is virtually no risk of environmental damage. No spills have been reported so far. The P-36 rig could produce up to 180,000 barrels of crude oil per day, making it the world's biggest platform, but after starting operations last year, it was only pumping out 80,000 barrels daily, or 5 percent of Brazil's total output. For their part, environmentalists said they were not convinced by company assurances that damage could be limited. "Our worry is that the oil will head to the coast," said Delcio Rodrigues of Greenpeace. The rig is 78 miles (125 km) off the shore of Rio state and if the oil were to drift toward land it would contaminate a precious mangrove region. One worker was in a hospital with severe burns and doctors described his condition as "very serious" on Friday. – (Reuters)

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