Friday, August 13, 2010

Huge Oil Blowout In Assumption Parish, Louisiana

Workers try to block oil drainage

A Mantle Oil and Gas LLC exploratory well spews oil, natural gas, brine and sand Thursday near Paincourtville in Assumption Parish. Emergency officials said the yellowish color coming from the well in the middle of large sugar-cane field likely comes from sand being forced up from the 7,200-foot well.
  Heather McClelland/The Advocate
Rain poses not only a runoff risk before embankments and other measures are ready but also can bring lightning that would slow preparations to cap the well spewing flammable hydrocarbons, authorities said.
Environmental officials continued to monitor the air in the vicinity of the blowout and sought to allay concerns about an oily odor being reported from residences near the well, as well as in Paincourtville and Napoleonville farther away, authorities said.
The Mantle Oil and Gas LLC well began firing a geyser of oil, natural gas, water and sand several hundred feet in the air shortly before 3:30 a.m. Wednesday in a large sugar-cane field near Paincourtville, authorities said.
No one was injured, but the blowout had not been stopped as of late Thursday. It had forced the evacuation of six houses, the shuttering of one business and the closure of two miles of La. 70 between La. 1 and La. 996.
Evacuations and closures remain in effect while the well remains uncapped. The alternate route is La. 996 to La 1000 to La. 1.
On Thursday afternoon, the threat of lightning amid drizzling rain slowed preparations “tremendously,” said Trooper Bryan Zeringue, Louisiana State Police Troop C spokesman.
He said workers had to be pulled from the site for a time before going back to place equipment until the evening.
Zeringue said officials are not sure whether the capping process would start this afternoon, as predicted Thursday.
“Weather is the thing that is going to play a big factor in everything,” he said.
Forecasters with the National Weather Service predicted a 70 percent chance of rain through today, with the possibility for lightning developing east of the parish overnight and early this morning.
Authorities said they are also watching the wind direction and the effect it has on where oil and other material from the well lands. Wind shifts made the roar of the spewing well audible from the command area Thursday.
John Boudreaux, director of Assumption Parish Office Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said his office received reports of an oily stench downwind of the well but air monitoring has shown that the air is not a health hazard.
“There is no indication of any kind of exposure in those areas,” Boudreaux said.

OIL to 2B

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality is monitoring air at 13 sites as much as a mile or more from the well and has plans to monitor in Napoleonville and Paincourtville, said Peter Ricca,  manager of DEQ State Emergency Response Group.
He said a mobile air monitoring lab station was also expected in Napoleonville on Thursday night.
Assumption Parish Sheriff Mike Waguespack said the station would be set up behind the parish courthouse.
Ricca said DEQ has also asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to provide a contractor it uses for community sampling.
A light petroleum scent, faintly like motor oil, was detectable Thursday northeast of the well in Belle Rose.
Marvin Bernard, 55, who lives on Virginia Street in Belle Rose, said he smelled oil in his house about midnight Thursday and had to shut off his air conditioner because oil seemed be coming through it.
He said he also went outside last night and his eyes and nose were irritated and that he became a little nauseated.
“I could tell I was breathing it in,” he said.
Nathaniel Carter, 65, who also lives on Virginia Street, said the odor of oil has not gotten in his house, but he can smell it outside.
Officials said much of Thursday was spent preparing to cap the well site: handling and placing arriving equipment and working on runoff controls.
Contractor Oil Mop LLC was in the process of building dikes and a basin Thursday to block and collect oil, Ricca said.
He said creating dikes and the basin area is the “second-highest priority” after air monitoring, saying it all has to be in place before the well can be capped.
The well is east of Grand Bayou and a cypress swamp along La. 70 near a Dow Chemical brine plant and salt dome operations.
In addition to the threat of rain, the bigger runoff concern, Ricca said, comes later when contractors attempt to cap the well and use equipment to create a curtain of water to suppress fire risk.
Ricca said the affected cane fields drain readily. He said a dike is being built just north of where a drainage ditch crosses under La. 70.
Oily material has been reported falling on farm equipment more than a mile to the southwest.
Oil condensate, a mixture of oil and water with the consistency of gasoline, has fallen on several hundred yards of La. 70, south of the well.
Residents with oil odor or oil concerns can call the American Association of Poison Control Centers hotline at (800) 222-1222 or the Assumption Parish OHSEP at (985) 369-7386.

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