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Fire at Gulf rig wanes, gas flow stops: regulators

HOUSTON (Reuters) - The flow of natural gas from a ruptured well at a shallow-water Gulf of Mexico drilling rig has stopped, and the fire on the rig off the coast of Louisiana has been reduced to a small flame, U.S. regulators said on Thursday.

The U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said the leaking well had "bridged over," meaning small pieces of sediment had stopped the flow of natural gas. The remaining small fire was fueled by residual gas at the top of the well, the agency said.

BSEE did not say if privately held Walter Oil & Gas, which owns the well, and Hercules Offshore, which was preparing the well for production when it blewout on Tuesday, were still evaluating the possibility of drilling a relief well to plug the ruptured well.

BSEE has tightened safety regulations for offshore oil and gas operations since the BP Plc BP.L 2010 deepwater blowout and oil spill that spewed more than 4 million barrels of crude into the Gulf. It took BP nearly three months to cap that ruptured well, which was ultimately killed and plugged by way of a relief well.

A jackup rig has legs that can be extended to move the hull above the surface of the water. Unlike floating rigs in deeper waters, the legs on jackups reach the sea floor.

The drilling rig partially collapsed in the fire on Wednesday.

No one was on board when the rig caught fire and the well leaked natural gas that dissipated but no oil, BSEE said.

Hercules has said 44 people were evacuated after the rupture and no injuries were reported. The rig is in 154 feet of water about 55 miles south of the coast of Louisiana.

(Reporting by Kristen Hays; Editing by Terry Wade and Sofina Mirza-Reid)

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