Mariner Energy Rig Fire Stokes Fears

Mariner Energy's platform fire in the Gulf of Mexico causes little damage but a great stir.
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NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Mariner Energy's (ME) platform fire in the Gulf of Mexico has stirred the nation.

It's easy to see why, of course, as the Gulf region continues to struggle to regain its balance after the


(BP) - Get Report

Deepwater Horizon disaster, smack in the middle of

hurricane season

. Just on Friday,

BP said the spill had cost it $8 billion

so far, which somehow sounds low.

As for Mariner Energy, a small Houston-based oil-and-gas explorer suddenly thrust into the national spotlight, here's a round-up of the latest:

Speculation is rampant that the Obama administration will extend the moratorium on energy exploration in the Gulf of Mexico. The moratorium was set to expire on Nov. 30. So far, no word from the White House.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a federal agency within the Department of the Interior, will start an investigation into the Mariner fire, along with the Coast Guard. (Note the pointed absence of the name "Minerals Management Service," the disgraced and disbanded sub-sub-agency within the Bureau of Ocean Energy that historically flubbed in its oversight of BP.)

Ranking House Democrats have summoned Mariner Energy executives to Capitol Hill for hearings, which could take place by next Friday.

Speaking of the Coast Guard, the service was forced to backpedal from statements it made Thursday afternoon about having spied, not far from Mariner's platform, a slick measuring a mile long and a hundred feet wide.

By Thursday evening, however, the Coast Guard said there was no slick or "sheen." What there was was plenty of confusion: the apparently mistaken sighting seemed to be in direct conflict with information from Mariner Energy, which had been claiming that nothing had leaked from the platform following the fire. To make the matter even more bewildering, Reuters reported Thursday evening that the Coast Guard received its initial intel regarding the mile-long sheen

from Mariner Energy.

The fire, which started in the platform's living quarters, has been out for a long time now. Crews extinguished the blaze Thursday afternoon.

The accident is not expected to impact Mariner's overall production levels -- the platform was relatively small -- nor to imperil its pending deal with Apache

Mariner shares were gaining ground in the early going Friday, advancing a little more than 2% to $23.39.

-- Written by Scott Eden in New York

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