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Platform for Prosecution: Charges Announced For 2012 Rig Disaster

Cleaning up oil spills in the Gulf takes some serious time. Apparently, the Department of Justice (DOJ) also moves at a protracted pace when it comes to leveling criminal charges in relation to these disasters. Still, there ultimately is some action. On Thursday (11.20), the DOJ charged three companies and three individuals in connection with a November 2012 oil rig accident that resulted in the deaths of three men and a spill in the Gulf.


Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations LLC and Grand Isle Shipyards Inc. were charged with three counts of involuntary manslaughter, eight counts of failing to follow proper safety practices under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) and one count of violating the Clean Water Act. Wood Group PSN Inc., Don Moss of Groves, Texas, Curtis Dantin of Cut-Off, Louisiana, and Christopher Srubar of Destrehan, Louisiana were charged with felony violations of OCSLA and the Clean Water Act. 


"The energy sector represents a vital industry in this region, but its work must be performed responsibly," stated U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite for the Eastern District of Louisiana. "Today's indictment underscores that we will hold accountable all parties - both businesses and individuals - whose criminality jeopardizes our environment or risks the loss of life."


The charges are the final element in a long narrative. In November 2013, a report blamed an offshore oil company and various contractors for an oil platform explosion and fire that caused the death of three Filipino welders and the feds came calling with formal violations. The U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement issued 41 notices of violations of federal offshore regulations to Black Elk Energy and its contractors.


The accident, which occurred at a Black Elk-owned platform off the coast of Grand Isle, killed welders Ellroy Corporal, Jerome Malagapo, and Avelino Tajonera. In the report, BSEE investigators found fault with the company and contractors Grand Isle Shipyards, Compass Engineering and the Wood Group for the incident.


The report found that oil remained in a fuel tank when the welders began their hot work on the platform. Oil vapors ignited while the workers were welding, and started a chain reaction started that launched two of the tanks into the air. In addition to the three workers killed, several other welders suffered severe burns in the explosion.


One tank fell into the Gulf, and created an oil sheen covering about a half-mile by 200 yards.


The report stated that the companies did not ensure a safe working area, and should have made sure the tanks were cleaned of oil before "hot work" could begin on the platform. The feds also said the welders could have asked to stop work if they feared for their safety, but workers told the investigators that they feared retaliation if they raised concerns.


The feds issued a total of 41 violation notices, known as "Incidents of Noncompliance," to the four contractors. Many of the violations were issued to each of the companies separately. 

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