Preparations under way to plug burning Gulf of Mexico well

HOUSTON, July 26 Fri Jul 26, 2013 4:29pm EDT

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HOUSTON, July 26 (Reuters) - The owner of a ruptured shallow-water natural gas well in the Gulf of Mexico is ready to drill a relief well to plug it once it obtains a permit, the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said on Friday.

Walter Oil & Gas, which owns the well that ruptured on Tuesday, has contracted with offshore driller Rowan Companies Plc to drill the relief well, the bureau said.

Natural gas leaked after the well rupture caught fire aboard a Hercules Offshore jack-up drilling rig, causing what the Hercules called "extensive damage."

The flow of natural gas from the well stopped on Thursday because sand and sediment had naturally fallen into the well, according to the bureau. A small flame continued burning on Friday from residual gas at the top of the well, the regulator said.

A relief well intersects the ruptured well, allowing fluids and cement to be pumped in and plug it.

None of the 44 workers evacuated from the rig after the rupture were hurt, and no oil leaked from the well, the bureau said.

The damaged Hercules rig is in 154 feet (47 meters) of water about 55 miles (88.5 km) south of the coast of Louisiana.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement did not say when a permit might be granted.

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