Friday's fire sent an ominous black plume of smoke into the air reminiscent of the deadly 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion that transformed the oil industry and life along the U.S. Gulf Coast
James A. Watson, the director of Louisiana's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, said in a statement Saturday that his agency had begun "an investigation into the explosion and fire aboard a Black Elk Energy production platform offshore Louisiana."
"BSEE is committed to determining the direct and indirect causes of the explosion and will take appropriate enforcement action," he said.
The Deepwater Horizon blaze killed 11 workers and led to an oil spill that took months to bring under control. Friday's fire came a day after BP PLC agreed to plead guilty to a raft of charges in the 2010 spill and pay a record $4.5 billion in penalties.
There were a few important differences between this latest blaze and the one that touched off the worst offshore spill in U.S. history: Friday's fire was put out within hours, while the Deepwater Horizon burned for more than a day, collapsed and sank.
The Black Elk Energy facility is a production platform in shallow water, rather than an exploratory drilling rig like the Deepwater Horizon looking for new oil on the seafloor almost a mile (1.6 kilometers) deep.
The depth of the 2010 well blow-out proved to be a major challenge in bringing the disaster under control.
The Black Elk Energy platform is in 56 feet (17 meters) of water — a depth much easier for engineers to manage if a spill had happened.
A sheen of oil about a half-mile (800 meters) long and 200 yards (180 meters) wide was reported on the Gulf surface, but officials believe it came from residual oil on the platform.
"It's not going to be an uncontrolled discharge from everything we're getting right now," Coast Guard Capt. Ed Cubanski said.
Hoffman, the Black Elk Energy spokeswoman, said Saturday that there were still no signs of any leak or spill at the platform site.
BP's blown-out well spewed millions of gallons (liters) of oil into the sea, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River on the east side of the river delta. The crude fouled beaches, marshes and rich seafood grounds.
After Friday's blaze, 11 people were taken by helicopter to area hospitals or for treatment on shore by emergency medical workers.
The production platform is on the western side of the Mississippi River delta.
"This platform was not in operation and had been shut in since mid-August," Black Elk officials said in a news release Saturday.
Cubanski said the platform appeared to be structurally sound. He said only about 28 gallons (106 liters) of oil were in the broken line on the platform.
David Smith, a spokesman for the Interior Department's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement in Washington, said an environmental enforcement team was dispatched from a Gulf Coast base by helicopter soon after the Coast Guard was notified of the emergency. Smith said the team would scan for any evidence of oil spilling and investigate the cause of the explosion.
Black Elk Energy is an independent oil and gas company. The company's website says it holds interests in properties in Texas and Louisiana waters, including 854 wells on 155 platforms.
Associated Press writers Kevin McGill in New Orleans and Jeff Amy in Jackson, Miss., and Norman Gomlak and Greg Schreier in Atlanta contributed to this story.
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