Timor Sea Drilling Spill – Well is Intercepted, Rig is Burning

Good news: at last, the fifth attempt to intercept the damaged Montara oil well succeeded this weekend. Bad news: while starting operations to kill the out-of-control well, the Montara / West Atlas platform and drilling rig caught fire:

Montara / West Atlas platform and rig burning off Western Australia. Photograph from PTTEP.
Watch video of the fire

Thankfully nobody was injured. The cause of the blaze is not known. Oil, gas, and natural gas condensate have been spewing from an uncontrolled well on the platform since August 21 (73 days ago).

The 100-mile-long smoke plume from this fire is visible from space, on MODIS Aqua and Terra images taken on November 2. And residual patches of oil and sheen from the ongoing spill have approached within 27 miles of islands along the Australian coast:

MODIS / Aqua image taken on November 2, 2009. See more SkyTruth images here.

This will certainly complicate the effort to gain control of the leaking well. And if the fire destroys the Montara platform and the attached West Atlas drilling rig, as some observers are now suggesting, then we may never learn exactly what happened to cause this blowout in the first place. On the plus side (trying hard to be optimistic here), if the fire is burning off most of the leaking hydrocarbons, then the area of ocean impacted by oil slicks and dispersants should greatly diminish.

Working from the nearby West Triton relief rig that drilled the intercept well, heavy drilling mud will be pumped into the damaged Montara well until the flow of hydrocarbons is shut off. That should promptly extinguish the fire.