Oil disaster off Australia raises concerns about deepwater drilling

Alex Salkever

An out-of-control rig fire off off the coast of Western Australia could prove a clarion call for the hazards of deep-sea drilling. Since Monday, a fire emanating from an oil and gas wellhead in the Montara Field has engulfed a drilling rig called West Atlas being used by Thai company PTTEP Australasia, according to industry publication Upstream Online. "The measures which we have been able to take so far can only mitigate the fire. They will not stop it," said executive Jose Martin of PTTEP Australasia, which owns the actual well.

The towering inferno is only the latest twist in an ongoing aquatic nightmare unfolding in the Timor Sea, an area rich in oil and gas between Australia and Indonesia. The well in question had also been responsible for a large oil spill in deep water. The well was drilled by the West Atlas rig in efforts to locate high-priced light-grade crude more than a mile beneath the waves.

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