Coast Guard Responds to Oil Spill Off Louisiana Shore

The US Coast Guard says they are investigating reports of an open wellhead.

ByABC News
February 27, 2013, 1:37 PM

Feb 27, 2013 -- The United States Coast Guard is investigating a report of an inactive wellhead spewing oily water into marshland about 50 miles south of New Orleans.

According to the Coast Guard the accident occurred Tuesday around 8 p.m. when a 42-foot crew boat named Sea Raider came into contact with the wellhead nine miles south of Port Sulphur, La., and compromised the dormant geyser.

No injuries were reported.

The wellhead is owned by Swift Energy and has been inactive since December of 2007. Swift Energy's president, Bruce Vincent, tells ABC News the well was shut down because it was considered under-producing.

The Coast Guard does not know how much of the water and oil mix is flowing out of the well but Vincent says the last time the well flow was assessed, only 18 barrels of oil a day were flowing. That pales in comparison to the 2010 BP oil spill which released an average of about 60,000 barrels a day or 2.5 million gallons, about two Exxon Valdez's a week.

Vincent tells ABC News officials at the company are developing plans to control the flow and hope to have the well capped in the next couple of days. He also notes the flow is not continuous. "It's what I would call surging or burping. It flows for a while then stops flowing and builds up pressure then flows again."

Such well occurrences are common in the oil-rich marshland off the coast of Louisiana. "We have had about 20 of these minor spills since the BP oil spill," says Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser. "But, they get cleaned up pretty quickly."

For their part, Swift Energy has deployed a small army to clean up the spill. "We have containment booms around the wellhead--those are in place. We also have skimmers skimming up the oil that's contained within that boom area. We also have been deploying additional booms to protect the marsh area."

The incident happens almost three years after a blast from an oil rig owned by oil giant BP killed 11 people and sent millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico--making it the worst environmental disaster in United States history.

A federal trial to identify the cause of the well blowout and decide how much monetary damage BP and others might have to pay is underway in New Orleans. Rig owner Transocean Ltd. and cement contractor Halliburton also are defendants at the trial, which opened Monday.