Offshore Companies Slammed Over Deadly Gulf Platform Fire

Federal energy industry regulators took a group of offshore contractors to task Monday for their role in a Gulf of Mexico oil platform explosion and fire that killed three Filipino workers in 2012. A week before the year anniversary of the incident, which happened off the coast of Grand Isle, the Bureau of Safety and Energy Enforcement published a report calling out Houston-based Black Elk Energy and its contractors for safety failures in the incident.


Filipino welders Ellroy Corporal, Jerome Malagapo, and Avelino Tajonera, were killed following the Nov. 16, 2012, incident. The explosion occurred during construction work, and the platform was not in production at the time. Work was subcontracted to Grand Isle Shipyards, DNR Offshore and Compass Engineering Consultants.


The explosion happened when oil vapors ignited as a worker was welding on the platform near a wet oil tank. That started a chain reaction that caused two other oil tanks to explode, the report states. The three tanks separated from the platform. Two were launched into the air, while the other one ended up in the Gulf. Oil in the tanks was released into the water, creating an oil sheen of a half-mile by 200 yards.


The investigation found that no proper precautions were not taken before conducting "hot work" on the platform, and that the platform was not swept or monitored for oil remnants. 


Workers proceeded with a "faulty assumption" that the platform was safe, the report states. The feds said that the workers have a right to stop work if they fear the area is not safe. But workers told investigators they feared retaliation if they raised concerns about safety.


The report also cited Black Elk and its contractors for not properly communicating about the work.


"These failures reflect a disregard for the safety of workers on the platform and are the antithesis of the type of safety culture that should guide decision-making in all offshore oil and gas operations," said Brian Salerno, director of Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.


The Bureau ordered all offshore sites to conduct a "safety stand down" in the wake of the findings to talk about real world examples of safety issues.


For its part, Black Elk and the other contractors will receive violation notices where regulations were violated. In the immediate wake of the incident, Black Elk was ordered to make their facilities safer. The company is still implementing improvements, which are being overseen by the Bureau.

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