World's Biggest Oil Rig
Sinking Off Brazil

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (Reuters) - The world's biggest offshore oil rig, hit by blasts that apparently killed 10 people, may sink in the next two days, the rig's Brazilian owners said, raising fears of environmental damage.
With chances of saving the listing rig fading, the president of state oil company Petrobras Henri Philippe Reichstul also told reporters the possibility of finding any of nine missing workers alive after Thursday's blasts was "very remote."
"Petrobras is in mourning," he said.
So far one person has been confirmed dead after three powerful blasts, whose cause is unknown, rocked the rig with 175 workers aboard.
Off the coast of Rio de Janeiro state, the giant 40-story rig's deck is now dipping into the water. If it sinks and damages shutters of underwater wells, it could cause Brazil's worst environmental catastrophe, according to engineers.
Petrobras, which has experienced environmental disasters over the last few years, said it had five ships around the rig able to contain a potential spill.
"The prospects of stabilising the platform are diminishing," Reichstul said, adding that the company, Brazil's biggest, was doing everything possible to save the rig.
Workers were pumping nitrogen into the damaged hull of the platform to keep it afloat. The accident has jeopardised Petrobras' oil production goals.
The rig, insured for $500 million (345 million pounds), is listing to one side and slowly sinking as the blasts had damaged one of its support columns. Officials said it was listing around 24 degrees, or over 2 times more than the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
"If the rig sinks there is the distinct possibility that some or all of the 21 pipelines could rupture," said Argemio Pertence, director of the Association of Engineers who worked for Petrobras for 25 years. "It would be a catastrophe."
He said that if it does not sink there is virtually no risk of environmental damage. No spills have been reported so far.
The P-36 rig could produce up to 180,000 barrels of crude oil per day, making it the world's biggest platform, but after starting operations last year, it was only pumping out 80,000 barrels daily, or 5 percent of Brazil's total output.
For their part, environmentalists said they were not convinced by company assurances that damage could be limited.
"Our worry is that the oil will head to the coast," said Delcio Rodrigues of Greenpeace. The rig is 78 miles (125 km) off the shore of Rio state and if the oil were to drift toward land it would contaminate a precious mangrove region.
One worker was in a hospital with severe burns and doctors described his condition as "very serious" on Friday.
Petrobras lamented the incident in a statement in main newspapers: "It was an accident of serious proportions and particularly painful as it involves the loss of human lives."
Public outrage mounted against Petrobras, which has had two major oil spills and a series of accidents in which 81 workers died in the last three years. In 1984, 36 people were killed in a platform explosion and fire.
Oil workers at Reduc, one of the country's biggest refineries, held a two-hour protest wearing black arm bands before punching in and employees at another refinery held a moment of silence for the victims of the explosion.
"I don't know if I'll be able to go back to work," said a platform worker in Macae, where Petrobras' heads up offshore operations for Rio state. "I've always known that there is a constant risk but this just makes you think again."
Workers accuse Petrobras of outsourcing work to inexperienced workers to cut costs, thus putting employees at risk and endangering the environment.
In January 2000, a Petrobras pipeline in Rio's scenic bay ruptured. The 340,000-gallon (1.3 million-litre) spill coated scores of marine birds and fish. The oil giant dumped more than four times as much crude into a major river six months later.
The rig is located in the Roncador oil field offshore in the Campos Basin, which produces 80 percent of crude in Brazil's booming oil industry.
If the immense platform did sink, it could still dump the 316,000 gallons (1.2 million litres) of diesel and 79,000 gallons (300,000 litres) of crude stored on the rig into the open sea.
All production was halted at P-36 and Petrobras said it could lose $50 million a month with the rig out of operation. Oil imports would then rise, hurting Brazil's fragile trade balance.
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