Blanco calls for review in gas well blowout

Published 11:57 pm Tuesday, November 20, 2007

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Gov. Kathleen Blanco has asked for a review of the policies involving well drilling close to major highways to determine whether restrictions should be put in place after a blowout forced the closure of a 55-mile corridor from Houston to New Orleans.

‘‘I appreciate your timely reply to my request that you compile a preliminary report regarding the cause of the blowout,’’ Blanco said in a letter dated Nov. 19 to James H. Welsh, the state’s commissioner of conservation. ‘‘More importantly, I am asking you to take further action to apply the lessons we are learning from this unfortunate incident to prevent such occurrences in the future.’’

The east- and westbound lanes of Interstate 10 will remain closed until at least Dec. 4, forcing vehicles onto alternate routes during the year’s busiest holiday traffic season.

Email newsletter signup

State officials said it will take at least two weeks to extinguish the fire, remove the debris and recap the well so the portion of the highway between Lafayette and Baton Rouge can be reopened.

Blanco told Welsh that as disruptive as shutting down I-10 during the Thanksgiving holiday has been, ‘‘the consequences could be devastating should a similar event disrupt an evacuation during hurricane season.’’

Blanco wants Welsh’s office to review ‘‘all relevant data’’ as part of the probe and identify steps necessary to assure driver safety and prevention of future road closures.

‘‘If this means revising your permitting process to limit drilling access within a certain radius of major transportation arteries, then we should do it,’’ Blanco said.

She also asked that the review include suggested changes and recommendations to state rules, regulations, legislation, application documents and approval processes. ‘‘We must enact preventative measures to assure that we never again face an event of this nature.’’

The blow out happened Nov. 15, when workers for Bridas Energy USA Inc. of The Woodlands, Texas, were drilling for a new well, and the pressure blew the line, which later erupted into flames.

State police initially expected to reopen the interstate within days of the blowout in the Atchafalaya Basin about 300 feet from the roadway. But as of Tuesday, authorities said the well was still on fire.

Emergency officials said even when the fire is extinguished, the gas, oil and other flammable materials at the well site pose a hazard until the well is recapped.

The traffic disruption comes at the heaviest travel time of the year, during the Thanksgiving holidays and with two large regional football games scheduled: the nationally televised Bayou Classic showdown between Grambling State and Southern University in New Orleans and the LSU/Arkansas rivalry game in Baton Rouge.

State transportation officials urged motorists coming into or leaving the area to build extra time into their itineraries and to exercise patience.

If possible, truckers traveling through the state were being asked to reroute to Interstate 20 in north Louisiana. And traffic between Lafayette and Baton Rouge has been rerouted onto U.S. 190, and police and transportation officials recommended that motorists traveling between Lafayette and New Orleans take U.S. 90.

The Louisiana State Police has a hot line to handle traffic questions at 1-800-469-4828.