An independent report ordered by Houston-based Black Elk Energy LLC and released August 21 indicates that a contractor hired by the company to perform welding work failed to follow standard safety protocols, thereby causing an explosion on a Gulf of Mexico oil rig in November, killing three workers and injuring several others.
The report, conducted by ABSG Consulting Inc. in cooperation with the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) during the course of an eight-month probe, found that subcontracted workers welding pipes connected to an oil tank failed to follow Black Elk’s safety procedures, resulting in the ignition of oil vapors that set off a series of explosions aboard the rig.
According to the report, one of the several causes of the deadly explosion was the decision of Grand Isle Shipyard, the company Black Elk contracted to do the work, to subcontract welders with DNR Offshore and Crewing Services. The agreement between Black Elk and Grand Isle stipulated that the contractor would not farm out work to subcontractors.
Black Elk said it has taken several measures to improve safety at its offshore operations, including reforms designed to enhance contractor oversight.
“Over the past eight months, we have worked to provide support for the victims and their families and cooperated with government officials to analyze the causes of the incident and to implement policy and procedural improvements to minimize the risk of similar incidents in the future,” a company spokesman said.
Black Elk’s rig explosion was the crescendo of a mounting record of serious and life-threatening safety violations. According to Law 360, after the explosion, the BSEE threatened to shut down all of Black Elk’s operations until it could demonstrate it had improved safety conditions. BSEE records show that Black Elk had been cited for safety violations 315 times since 2010, including 145 “severe or threatening” violations that required partial shutdowns and 12 violations the agency deemed life-threatening, requiring shutdowns of entire facilities.
Although the BSEE did not tell Black Elk to stop its operations completely after the November blast, it did order the company to cease all welding and other “hot work” at its 98 offshore platforms until the agency deemed the company has reduced fire hazard, according to Law 360.
According to Law 360, the explosion also prompted Democratic leaders from the House Energy and Commerce and Natural Resources Committees to demand an explanation for the deadly incident. Additionally, it triggered a lawsuit by Black Elk shareholders, who said the explosion, the company’s poor safety record, and its “long history of mismanagement” hurt the company.