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Chevron: Fire at rig off Nigeria has stopped

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[March 06, 2012]  LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) -- A natural gas fire that killed two people and destroyed a Chevron Corp. rig off the coast of Nigeria has stopped on its own, the company said Tuesday, ending an ocean inferno that burned for 46 days.

The natural gas at the Funiwa field, just off Nigeria's Bayelsa state, stopped bubbling to the surface of the Atlantic Ocean on Friday, extinguishing a fire visible from the coast, Chevron spokesman Russell A. Johnson said. Chevron only confirmed the fire had stopped on Tuesday, but gave no reason why it delayed the announcement.

Johnson acknowledged gas could begin flowing again from the well and said Chevron would continue to dig a relief well nearby to permanently plug the site.

"We continue to watch to ensure gas doesn't begin to flow," Johnson said.

Those living near the rig awoke Jan. 16 to a series of explosions from Chevron's KS Endeavor natural gas rig, which sits only 10 kilometers (6 miles) from shore. Two workers died in the blast, who officials have identified as nationals of India and France.

The raging fire at the site has softened the steel of the rig, causing it to collapse into the ocean.

Chevron says it continues to investigate what started the fire. Nigeria's government believes a "gas kick" -- a major buildup of gas pressure from drilling -- caused by an industrial accident was responsible for the blaze.

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Foreign firms have pumped oil out of Nigeria's oil-rich southern delta for more than 50 years. Despite the billions of dollars flowing into Nigeria's government, many in the delta remain desperately poor, living in polluted waters without access to proper medical care, education or work.

Nigeria produces about 2.4 million barrels of crude oil a day, making it Africa's top producer. Chevron had hoped its KS Endeavor gas rig would usher in a new push for gas in the country.

Nigeria, an OPEC nation, is a top energy supplier to the U.S.

[Associated Press; By JON GAMBRELL]

Jon Gambrell can be reached at http://twitter.com/jongambrellap.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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