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Foreign Policy: Second Explosion Exposes Oil Industry

oil platform explosion

Boats spray water on an oil platform after an explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. The 13 workers on the platform were rescued. Mario Tama/Getty Image hide caption

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Eric Lukas is an assistant editor of the Oil and Glory Blog at Foreign Policy Magazine.

The Gulf of Mexico can't catch a break. Just as BP crews tried to remove the Macondo well's blowout preventer, an offshore oil rig operating some 200 miles to the west of the spill site exploded Thursday morning. Fortunately, all thirteen members of the rig crew survived and were rescued successfully. But uncertainty remains over whether we're facing a second catastrophic oil spill in less than five months. Mariner Energy, the company operating the rig, told CNBC today that no oil was leaking from the facility. However, the Coast Guard reported sightings of a mile-long oil sheen near the rig, though it's unclear whether the oil is coming from the rig itself or the well.

Although the story is still developing — it's unclear what caused the explosion — the blast is sure to be embarrassing for the oil industry and those opposed to the Obama administration's deepwater drilling moratorium. The Mariner platform, known as Vermilion Block 380, was situated in only 340 feet of water — shallow compared to the 5,000-foot depth of the Deepwater Horizon well — and as such was unaffected by the drilling ban. The accident also comes a day after the American Petroleum Institute organized a series of rallies against the moratorium by industry workers in Houston and two other Texas cities. One Mariner employee told the Financial Times's Sheila McNulty that "this administration is trying to break us." API has repeatedly cited the millions of industry jobs that the drilling ban puts in jeopardy, but it's becoming clear that the moratorium will not even cost the 23,000 jobs that the government projected, according to John Broder and Clifford Krauss at the New York Times.

API and other industry advocates participating in the rallies, including ex-Shell Oil president John Hofmeister, continue to remind the public of oil's importance to the American economy. They are correct to do so, but they cannot act as if the industry has always had a stellar safety record prior to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Even the Vermilion rig, located at a low-risk and almost routine offshore drilling site, has had a history of accidents before this explosion. Accidents happen, but it will be up to the oil industry and its partners to work with regulators to make sure they happen less often.

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