Experts say environmental risk from gas well blowout may be small

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Experts say the blowout and fire at a natural gas well off the coast of Louisiana won't necessarily pose much of an environmental risk.

For one thing, officials say they're seeing no sheens near the well during flyovers of the area. That indicates that gas is burning off without releasing oil or other hydrocarbons -- which are sometimes found in gas wells -- into the water.

Several scientists say natural gas poses much less of an environmental risk to the Gulf than crude oil would pose.

Donald Boesch of the University of Maryland, who was on the federal panel that investigated the BP oil spill, says the gas that's being discharged won't necessarily affect the water system. He says it's likely that most of the gas is venting into the atmosphere. And by nature, natural gas is more soluble than oil -- meaning it dissolves and disperses more easily.

The well is continuing to burn, hours after it ignited following the blowout. More than 40 workers were evacuated from a drilling rig at the site, and no injuries were reported.

Federal authorities say the owner of the well is preparing to move equipment to the area in case it needs to drill a relief well.

Meanwhile, two firefighting vessels have been moved away to a safe distance from the fire. A third vessel is being brought to the area.

%@AP Links

153-a-13-(Bonnie Schumaker, pilot who flew over the burning rig in the Gulf, in AP interview)-"at the surface"-Bonnie Schumaker says she couldn't tell from her flyover how much damage is being done by the leak and fire in the Gulf. (24 Jul 2013)

<<CUT *153 (07/24/13)££ 00:13 "at the surface"

152-a-13-(Bonnie Schumaker, pilot who flew over the burning rig in the Gulf, in AP interview)-"burn itself out"-Bonnie Schumaker says that when she flew over the two fires on the gas well platform they looked major. (24 Jul 2013)

<<CUT *152 (07/24/13)££ 00:13 "burn itself out"

GRAPHICSBANK: Natural gas spewing from the Hercules 265 drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana, undated Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement photo on texture, partial graphic (24 Jul 2013)

APPHOTO LAGH201: This photo released by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement shows natural gas spewing from the Hercules 265 drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana, Tuesday, July 23, 2013. No injuries were reported in the midmorning blowout and there was no fire as of Tuesday evening at the site, about 55 miles off the Louisiana coast in the Gulf of Mexico. (AP Photo/Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement) (23 Jul 2013)

<<APPHOTO LAGH201 (07/23/13)££

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