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Transocean Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion shows new risks

Major mishaps aboard oil rigs are rare. But accidents like the Transocean Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion show the risks as companies explore farther and drill deeper.

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The Coast Guard said on Wednesday it has not found up to 12 crew members who were missing after the rig explosion Tuesday night, Reuters reported.

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"We're still searching," said Coast Guard Lt. Sue Kerver, noting that the Coast Guard is the lead agency for the search and rescue effort.

The investigation will focus on human error and mechanical malfunction, says Mr. Pinon, adding that such advanced rigs "need a lot of tender loving care to operate."

“We’ve had hurricanes and fires on the rigs, but I can’t remember that we ever had this type of explosion and definitely not on this type of rig,” Plaquemines Parish president, Billy Nungesser, told the New York Times.

While hurricanes often batter oil rigs, explosions and fires are rare. In 1988, the Piper Alpha offshore rig exploded, killing 167 people. And in 2001, the Petrobas 36 platform off Brazil's coast also exploded, killing 11 workers.

"Rigs are some of the safest places to be … which is what makes the explosion on the oil rig in the Gulf all the more unexpected and means it was likely one that happened very fast," reports CNN's Ali Velshi, who was once evacuated from an oil rig.

Most immediately, the Deepwater Horizon accident will affect BP, which was leasing the rig at the cost of about $450,000 a day, says Pinon. In 2005, BP's Thunder Horse deepwater rig in the Gulf nearly capsized from a plumbing error. Also in 2005, an explosion rocked BP's Texas City refinery, killing 15 and injuring scores of other workers. In 2006, one of BP's pipelines on Alaska's North Shore began leaking, forcing the company to re-lay 16 miles of pipe.

But while the Deepwater Horizon accident will give the industry pause, it's also a reminder, says Mr. Bryce, "that given all these risks, that all in all these kinds of catastrophic accidents are really pretty rare."