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Black Elk Energy must improve safety following platform fire

23 November 2012

The US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement has sent a letter to Black Elk Energy of Houston and its CEO and president John Hoffman, telling him that his company has until December 15 to come up with a plan to improve safety operations or face possible revocation of its license to operate in the Gulf of Mexico.

The platform explosion on November 16 is the latest in a string of safety incidents at Black Elk Energy facilities
The platform explosion on November 16 is the latest in a string of safety incidents at Black Elk Energy facilities

The letter also notes the company’s poor safety record in its two years of approved operations in the Gulf. It cited “a number of significant safety violations that demonstrate a disregard for the safety of personnel.” 

Company spokeswoman Erin Dow said Black Elk is working with the BSEE regulators in the wake of Friday's accident. "Safety is a high priority for Black Elk Energy and we will continue to work cooperatively with local and national federal agencies to understand exactly what happened with the incident at our platform in the Gulf of Mexico."

One Filipino worker was killed in the November 16 explosion and fire on Black Elk’s West Delta 32 A/E platform, another is missing and presumed dead and four more suffered serious burns. 

“Black Elk has repeatedly failed to operate in a manner that is consistent with federal regulations,” BSEE Director James A. Watson said in a statement. “BSEE has taken a number of enforcement actions, including issuing numerous Incidents of Non Compliance (INCs), levying civil penalties and calling in the company’s senior leadership to review their performance and the ramifications of failing to improve. This is an appropriate and necessary step as we continue to investigate the explosion and fire that resulted in the tragic loss of life and injuries last week.”

Specifically, the bureau noted that inspectors from its Lafayette district office issued 45 INCs to Black Elk in October for violations on nine facilities it operates near South Marsh Island. It also mentioned findings a year earlier, in October 2011, when the company’s use of an acid-based chemical that sent six workers to the hospital.

The letter from BSEE regional director Lars Herbst also says that Black Elk had a meeting with BSEE officials at the Lake Jackson district in April and was warned that it “would be placed on notice if it did not improve its operations.”

Grand Isle Shipyard of Venice, Louisiana, employed 14 of the 22 workers on the platform at the time of the explosion. 

Separate from the explosion, Grand Isle Shipyard is facing a lawsuit by a group of former workers from the Philippines who claim they were confined to cramped living quarters and forced to work long hours for substandard pay. The lawsuit was filed in late 2011 in a Louisiana federal court and is pending. Lawyers for the company have said the workers’ claims are false and should be dismissed.

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