Black Elk platform explosion caused by contractors, investigator says

A third-party investigator concluded that a failure by contractors to follow standard safety practices caused the November 2012 explosion and fire on an oil production platform operated by Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations LLC in the Gulf of Mexico (OGJ Online Nov. 16, 2012). The platform was on West Delta Block 32 about 17 miles southeast of Grand Isle, La.

An 8-month investigation by ABSG Consulting found that, while production was shut in, workers welded on piping that was connected to a tank containing crude oil and flammable oil vapors without following Black Elk’s safety practices. The piping leading to the tank had not been isolated and made safe for welding activities as required by Black Elk safe work practices. The flammable vapors in the piping ignited and within seconds reached the first oil tank and then two connected tanks.

Black Elk contracted with Grand Isle Shipyard to perform the construction work. Although Grand Isle committed in its contract to not use subcontractors on Black Elk projects, all of the workers performing the welding involved in the incident were employed by DNR Offshore & Crewing Services, a subcontractor of Grand Isle. ABSG determined that use of the DNR Offshore subcontractor without notifying Black Elk was one of several causes of the incident.

ABSG also determined other causes were that Grand Isle and DNR Offshore employees failed to adequately follow safe work practices for performing welding and failed to stop work when unsafe conditions existed. The workers involved in the incident were from the Philippines. “Filipino offshore oil workers have a deserved reputation for competence and professionalism,” said John Hoffman, Black Elk’s president and chief executive officer. “A serious issue in this case was Grand Isle's apparent failure to provide proper safety training and appropriate supervision.”

ABSG was retained by Black Elk to investigate the Nov. 16, 2012, incident that resulted in the deaths of three workers and injuries to others. ABSG performed an extensive investigation to determine the causes of the accident, coordinated its investigation with the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, and provided recommendations to prevent a similar incident in the future.

In conducting its investigation, ABSG reviewed thousands of pages of documents and records; collected and preserved physical evidence from the platform; performed fire and explosion modeling of the incident; and utilized industry-accepted causal analysis methodologies to determine the causes of the incident.

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