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Two missing, 11 injured in U.S. Gulf platform blast

BY ANGEL GONZALEZ and DANIEL GILBERT

HOUSTON--An oil and gas platform exploded and caught fire off the coast of Louisiana on Friday, injuring 11, leaving two missing and resulting in a two-by-a-quartermile oil sheen around the site, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

Coast Guard spokesman Jonathan Lally said it is possible that the two missing people went overboard, and several commercial vessels are participating in the search. Mr. Lally said there are "no confirmed fatalities," and the fire on the platform was extinguished.

The platform is in shallow water, 25 mi off Grand Isle, La., in the offshore West Delta 32 Block of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. It is owned by Black Elk Energy, an independent, Houston-based oil and gas company. The company didn' t reply to requests for comment.

Mr. Lally said four people injured in the explosion were flown to the West Jefferson Parish Medical Center in Marrero, La. Taslin Alfonzo, a medical center spokeswoman, said the four patients were in critical condition; two are being moved to the Baton Rouge General Burn Center while the other two will be moved there in four to six hours.

Another Coast Guard spokesman, Carlos Vega, said another two people were flown to the Terrebonne General Medical Center, and two were flown to the Lady of the Sea General Hospital, in Cut Off, La. A spokesman for the Terrebonne hospital said that the facility has received two patients "and they are in good conditions." The Lady of the Sea General Hospital didn' t respond to calls for comment.

Three people were also flown to Grand Isle to be picked up by an ambulance, Mr. Vega said, adding that there were 26 to 28 people aboard the platform when the blast occurred. Mr. Vega added that there was an oil sheen around the platform.

Black Elk Energy Chief Executive John Hoffman told Houston news station KPRC that the explosion was set off when sparks from a torch the workers were using to cut a line on the platform hit a storage tank, which then exploded.

Five workers remain in hospitals, while two have been released, Mr. Hoffman told the station. No fatalities have been confirmed, Mr. Hoffman said.

About 16 barrels of oil leaked from the platform into the water, Mr. Hoffman said. Black Elk was sending response boats to the scene, he added.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which oversees the safety of offshore operations in federal waters, said inspectors from the agency are enroute to the platform.

BSEE investigated Black Elk last year for a small fire on one of its offshore production platforms. In February 2011, an improperly enclosed rechargeable battery started a fire on a Black Elk platform, according to an accident report archived by the BSEE. The safety agency recommended that Black Elk review how it stores batteries on platforms to minimize the chances of internal shorts and possible fires.

Black Elk also was investigated for a crane accident in August 2012, when an improperly repaired winch let loose.

Black Elk was the company that BSEE chose to carry out its first-ever virtual safety audit in November 2011. The federal agency carried out an Internet-based audit of Black Elk' s Safety and Environmental Management Systems, which are meant to enhance the safety of offshore operations by minimizing human error and reducing the frequency of accidents. Though they were strengthened in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon accident, those safety rules had been in the works for years to make the industry more proactive in fostering a safety culture. There is no information on the results of the BSEE virtual audit of Black Elk.

Mr. Hoffman, the company' s CEO, began his career with Amoco, which had been acquired by BP Plc (BP) by the time he left in 1999. He founded Black Elk in 2007, and a year later it landed its first offshore opportunity.

Last month, Black Elk announced plans to ramp up operations in the Gulf of Mexico by starting the drilling of 23 new wells.

Dow Jones Newswires

 

11/16/2012

 

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