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Another oil rig explodes in Gulf of Mexico raises more questions

Here’s what we know: On the morning of Thursday, Sept. 2, an oil and gas rig owned by Mariner Energy, Inc., operating in about 340 feet of water on the continental shelf experienced an explosion and subsequently caught fire, resulting in all 13 workers on board to flee into the water.

This incident is different from BP’s Mancondo disaster because BP’s fiasco occurred on a floating rig operating an exploration well in ultra-deepwater a mile deep, whereas this Mariner Energy operation was in shallow water (340 ft) on a rig that is permanently fixed to the ocean floor below (and not a floating rig).

While we wait for details, here are two things to think about:

1. In June the Obama administration unveiled new, tougher rules for shallow drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. The question is: Have federal inspectors personally reviewed this Mariner Energy facility, and what were the results of all certifications and tests of this particular facility?

2. Here’s what we know about Mariner Energy: In January 2004, the private equity funds Carlyle/Riverstone and Texas Pacific Group purchased Mariner Energy from Enron for $271 million and took the company public in March 2005. Carlyle/Riverstone then exited as an investor, but Texas Pacific Group, through its ACON Investments subsidiary, still has significant interests, with ACON’s Bernard Aronson and Jonathan Ginns both serving on Mariner’s board.

Mariner’s Enron legacy continues, as the company’s Chairman, CEO and President is Scott D. Josey, who served as VP of Enron North America from 2000-02. At the time, Enron was engaged in one of the biggest corporate rip-offs in history, stealing billions of dollars from West Coast energy consumers. Jesus G. Melendrez is Mariner’s CFO and he served as a VP with Enron North America from 2000-03. Mariner’s General Counsel, Teresa G. Bushman, worked as a lawyer with Enron from 1996-2003.

Public Citizen revealed that Mariner Energy has escaped paying more than $44 million in royalties because it has legally been producing oil and gas from Gulf of Mexico leases royalty-free.

On Aug. 11, 2007, the federal government fined Mariner Energy $30,000 after an employee “fell 11 feet.”

Tyson Slocum is the director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. Cross-posted from Citizen Energy.