Burning oil rig in Timor Sea at risk of collapse
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Burning oil rig in Timor Sea at risk of collapse

An oil rig leaking into the Timor Sea and engulfed in a massive blaze is at risk of total collapse, the rig operator acknowledged Monday, as government officials frustrated by failure to plug the leak promised an investigation.

Officials with rig operator PTTEP Australasia were planning to pump more heavy mud into a leaking well casing on Tuesday in the hopes of removing the source of fuel from the fire, which broke out on the West Atlas rig and Montara wellhead platform on Sunday.

The blaze started when workers were pouring mud into a hole that has been leaking an estimated 400 barrels of oil a day since Aug. 21. The company says it does not know what sparked the blaze.

“The fire is out of control,” PTTEP Australasia chief financial officer Jose Martins told reporters in Perth on Monday.

A portion of the rig has already collapsed onto the wellhead platform, and there is a “large risk” the West Atlas rig could collapse into the sea, Martins said.


Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson said Monday that once the spill is contained he would launch an official inquiry.

“Our requirement is to assess the cause of the accident and any lessons to be learnt, and that could lead to a change in the regulatory environment,” he told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

Ferguson later told reporters in Melbourne that if PTTEP was “found to have been at fault with respect to any of their responsibilities, then any potential action will be appropriately considered at the time.”

On Monday, the company said it was mixing 4,000 barrels of heavy mud to pour down the well on Tuesday morning.

The oil slick from the rig, about  250 km off Australia’s northwest coast, now stretches across thousands of kilometers of remote ocean. Indonesia said last week that thousands of dead fish and clumps of oil have been found drifting near its coastline.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Monday he was “deeply disturbed” at the latest turn of events on the rig, signaling the government’s rising frustration that fixing the spill is taking so long.

“Do I think this is acceptable? No, I don’t,” Rudd told Fairfax Radio Network. “Are we angry with this company? Yes we are. Are we trying to do everything we can to get this under control? You betcha.”

Associated Press