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Natural gas well owned by Houston company blazes in Gulf of Mexico; workers safe

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Gulf of Mexico gas rig explosion in flames July 2013
Abatement efforts are underway near Hercules 265 Rig where fire has now caused collapse of the drill floor and derrick. Photo courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard
natural gas well explosion near Louisiana in Gulf of Mexico July 2013
This photo provided by The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement shows natural gas spewing from the Hercules 265 drilling rig on fire in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana on July 23. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement
Gulf of Mexico gas rig explosion in flames July 2013
natural gas well explosion near Louisiana in Gulf of Mexico July 2013

A natural gas well owned by Houston's Walter Oil & Gas Corporation continues to burn in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday morning more than 24 hours after workers lost control of an unmanned rig about 50 miles southwest of Grand Isle, La.

Hercules Offshore, the Houston-based operator of the 32-year-old rig, reports that all 44 crew members were safely evacuated before the well ignited at 10:45 p.m. on Tuesday. In a statement, the company notes that all parties involved are working with experts to tame the blaze and are exploring the possibilities of drilling a relief well.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) reports that as the fire continues, the beams supporting the derrick have folded and collapsed onto the rig structure. A "light sheen" spotted on the water Tuesday afternoon has all but disappeared as firefighting vessels work to subdue the flames on Wednesday.

Representatives with Walter Oil tell CultureMap they would not comment on the status of the ongoing incident, but noted that they were preparing to make a statement in the near future. On its website, the company says that all government regulators have been contacted and that it will work closely with Hercules Offshore to minimize environmental impact.

BSEE spokesperson Eileen Angelico explains to the Associated Press that it is unknown what caused the gas to ignite.

Company officials are stressing to AP reporters that the blowout would not be nearly as damaging as 2010's Deepwater Horizon spill, which killed 11 workers and unleashed millions of gallons of oil.

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