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Federal Investigators Blame Poor Safety Culture for Black Elk Explosion

Almost a year after the explosion at the West Delta 32 platform in the Gulf of Mexico, federal investigators have concluded that poor decisions by Black Elk Energy and its contractors are to blame for the incident.

The blast, which occurred on the 16th of November 2012, killed three people working aboard the rig and injured several others. Early in the morning employees of DNR Offshore Crewing Services began welding a flange on an open pipe that was connected to a wet oil tank. As a result of the poor safety practices aboard the platform the pipe had not been isolated and cleared of all flammable substances. Sparks from the welding torch are expected to have ignited vapours in the pipe, which then rushed into the wet oil tank, igniting it, along with the two adjacent dry tanks, in a huge explosion.

West Delta 32 platform

The investigation held Black Elk Energy accountable for failing to create an effective safety culture amongst the contractors working on the rig, meaning that the contractors ignored official safety precautions when carrying out hot work, the name given to any practices, such as welding, that require high temperature sources of heat.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, along with the Coast Guard, said that some of the contractors on-board were unwilling to speak out about safety concerns they might have had, due to fears that they would lose their jobs.

Related article: Rig Fire Exposes Lingering Dangers of Offshore Drilling

Brian Salerno, the director of the Bureau of Safety, said that “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.”

Black Elk Energy initially released their own third-party investigation that tried to absolve them of any guilt and blame the entire incident on its contractors. The report said that: “Compass which was contracted by Black Elk to manage and oversee construction modifications and coordinate all of the companies working on the platform. Wood Group, which was tasked by Black Elk with managing production equipment and serving as the “person in charge” at the time of the accident. Grand Isle Shipyard, which was hired by Black Elk Energy to provide workers for construction projects at the West Delta 32 complex. DNR Offshore Crewing Services, which was contracted by Grand Isle Shipyard to recruit workers from the Philippines.”

Newer studies have determined that Black Elk Energy, as leaseholder and operator of the platform, was responsible for ensuring that its contractors worked together in a safe manner.

By. Joao Peixe Oilprice.com



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