NEW ORLEANS—Federal prosecutors have charged offshore driller Black Elk Energy with federal felony charges in connection with a 2012 Gulf of Mexico oil rig explosion that killed three workers and seriously injured three others.
The charges stem from a 2013 report by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) that pinned the explosion on a multitude of bad decisions and safety failures by Black Elk and the contractors it retained for construction work on the offshore platform, situated about 20 miles south of Grand Isle, La.
According to the report, “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.”
The report says Black Elk and its contractors didn’t bother to identify hazards before they started the construction work. Crews began welding work on a section of the rig containing storage tanks that weren’t properly emptied of flammable liquids beforehand.
The report also found that ineffective communication among contractors played a role in the disaster, as well as a work environment that made workers fear retaliation if they voiced concerns about safety.
University of Maryland law professor Rena Steinzor, who wrote a book about corporate criminals, told the Corporate Crime Reporter that she hopes “a few senior managers are indicted” for the deadly Black Elk explosion.
“Three workers were killed here in an entirely preventable explosion caused by a reckless disregard of fundamental safety rules,” Professor Steinzor told the Corporate Crime Reporter, likening offshore oil drilling in deep water to “the Wild West without a sheriff.”
“They were sent in to weld near a tank emitting highly flammable gases and the big surprise is that more did not die,” she said.