Just weeks after Massey Energy's (NYSE: MEE) disastrous underground explosion, the offshore drilling industry has its own black stain to contend with.

On Wednesday, Transocean (NYSE: RIG) reported that a fire had broken out on board its semisubmersible drilling rig Deepwater Horizon the previous evening. The rig had been drilling a discovery well for BP (NYSE: BP) in the Mississippi Canyon section of the Gulf of Mexico. On Wednesday evening, the rig was still on fire, and 11 crew members were reported missing. The rig sank on Thursday morning, and the 11 missing workers are feared to have been aboard.

This is a terrible blow to the industry because it has both human fatalities and a potentially significant oil spill. The well was reportedly flowing 310 barrels per hour on Wednesday, and some early attempts to plug the well have failed.

The timing of this accident couldn't be much worse, coming on the heels of the Obama administration's offering of an offshore drilling olive branch. It also happened to be Earth Day yesterday.

Health, safety, and environmental (HSE) practices often get short shrift when it comes to investor evaluations of the contract drillers. I know that I get as hung up on utilization and margins as the next guy. If any good comes of this week's events, it would be to retrain all eyes on HSE. On this front, Noble (NYSE: NE), Ensco (NYSE: ESV), and Atwood Oceanics (NYSE: ATW) are the standouts, according to EnergyPoint Research. This independent assessment underscores my confidence in this trio of best-of-breed operators.

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