Chávez reports gas platform has sunk off Venezuela coast

By Daniel Cancel
Bloomberg / May 14, 2010

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CARACAS — President Hugo Chávez said yesterday that a natural gas platform sank off the eastern coast of Venezuela because of a faulty flotation system. The incident comes three weeks after a catastrophic oil rig accident in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The gas platform Aban Pearl sank a few minutes ago,’’ Chávez said in a message on his Twitter account. “The good news is that its 95 workers are safe. They were evacuated and in this moment two patrol ships from the Navy are headed to the area.’’

Chávez is trying to tap offshore gas reserves to power thermoelectric plants amid an energy crisis. Repsol YPF, Eni, and Chevron are also exploring offshore.

Petroleos de Venezuela, the state-owned oil company, said a failure in the floatation system of the Aban Pearl caused the rig to sink after a “massive’’ inflow of water. Technicians sealed the gas well with a security valve before the platform sank, the company said yesterday in an e-mail.

Venezuela, which has Latin America’s largest natural gas reserves at 170 trillion cubic feet of gas, is certifying reserves and expects to reach 400 trillion cubic feet, which would give it the fourth-largest reserves in the world, behind Russia, Iran, and Qatar, according to BP data.

Rafael Ramirez, Venezuela’s oil minister and president of the company known as PDVSA, said that the platform, which began to tilt late Wednesday, sank at 2:20 a.m. local time. Ramirez, speaking on state television, said workers closed the valve connected to the well to avoid a gas leak.

PDVSA had forecast that production would reach 600 million cubic feet a day in the offshore area near Trinidad and Tobago where it is drilling for gas.

The platform was leased from an Indian company called Aban Offshore Ltd., Ramirez said. An investigation will be conducted to determine the cause of the accident, he said. Telephone calls seeking comment from Aban’s headquarters in Chennai, India, weren’t answered.

“Fortunately, the well poses no environmental risks,’’ Ramirez said in an e-mailed statement from the Information Ministry. “We’ve contacted the owner of the platform and the experts are studying the cause of the unfortunate incident.’’

Chávez said last month that the drilling in the Dragon gas fields, where the rig was located, is historic for PDVSA because it was the first offshore project developed by the company without foreign partners. “Everything was done by PDVSA on its own,’’ he said. “We already have pipelines, remote-controlled robots, and underwater technology that our PDVSA is doing on its own.’’

The accident will delay PDVSA’s plans to boost gas production, Diego Gonzalez, former head of the oil company’s natural gas division, said yesterday in a telephone interview.

“This is a big setback for the company’s plans, since the equipment is lost and they’ll have to hire another platform,’’ he said.

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