Explosion, fire on Gulf of Mexico platform occurred during welding
HOUSTON -- An explosion and fire during a construction project last November on a Gulf of Mexico oil production platform operated by Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations, LLC occurred after contractors failed to follow standard safety practices, a third-party investigator has concluded. The platform is located at West Delta 32 Block in the Gulf of Mexico, 17 miles south east of Grand Isle, La.
After an eight-month investigation, 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 Energy’s safety practices.
ABSG was retained by Black Elk Energy to investigate the November 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 U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), and provided recommendations to prevent a similar incident in the future.
ABSG found that:
• On the day of the incident, workers were welding a flange on open piping leading to an oil tank that contained flammable vapors. The piping leading to the tank had not been isolated and made safe for welding activities as required by Black Elk Energy safe work practices.
• Flammable vapors in the piping ignited and within seconds reached the first oil tank and then two connected tanks.
Black Elk Energy contracted with Grand Isle Shipyard to perform the construction work. Although Grand Isle committed in its contract to not use subcontractors on Black Elk Energy projects, all of the workers performing the welding involved in the incident were employed by DNR Offshore and Crewing Services, a subcontractor of Grand Isle. ABSG determined that use of the DNR Offshore subcontractor without notifying Black Elk Energy 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.
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.