Oil Rig Explosion Kills 2 in Gulf of Mexico

Deadly Black Elk incident comes one day after BP accepted record fine for 2010 spill.

A crane stands on a beach chair at dawn on the one-year anniversary of the BP oil spill on April 20, 2011 in Orange Beach, Alabama.
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An explosion on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico has killed two platform workers, left two unaccounted for, and four in critical condition, who were airlifted by helicopter to a hospital in southern Louisiana, according to WWL-TV.

The rig is located 25 miles south of Grand Isle, a barrier island about 100 miles south of New Orleans. At the time of the accident, there were 28 workers on the rig, which was not producing oil, according to Capt. Peter Gautier of the U.S. Coast Guard.

"Preliminary report we're getting is that there were some workers doing maintenance and construction," Gautier told WWL-TV. "It sounds like a pipe was cut into that might have had some oil in it that caught fire."

[RELATED: BP Settles With the Feds, Continues Comeback]

The accident comes just a day after BP agreed to pay a $4.5 billion settlement with the government for deception and failed oversight relating to the 2010 rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 workers and led to criminal charges for the company. Unlike the Deepwater Horizon situation, however, Friday's rig explosion does not present a major environmental threat, Gautier said.

"We're not facing, from what we can see, a major oil spill response here," Gautier said. "We're seeing a small sheen but its not a major environmental issue."

Gautier said the Coast Guard sent one fixed-wing aircraft, two Coast Guard vessels, and a patrol boat to the scene. He said they are continuing to search for the two missing workers.

[PHOTOS: 2010 Oil Spill Devastates Gulf Coast]

The rig is owned by a company called Black Elk Energy, a Houston company that in October celebrated its five-year anniversary by announcing a major Gulf of Mexico drilling plan, according to Houston Business Journal. The company's plans included opening 23 oil wells in the gulf. According to WWL-TV, the company has had more than 75 accidents or safety incidents in the past five years.

Black Elk's CEO, John Hoffman, who left BP to start the company, said the platform in question is a shallow water operation. He said the explosion occurred when the construction crew was working on a water skimmer, which separates water from oil, when the wrong line was cut.

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Seth Cline is a reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at scline@usnews.com.