Black Elk, WGPSN charged in deadly 2012 rig explosion

November 20, 2015

Several companies and individuals, including Black Elk Energy Offshore and Wood Group PSN (WGPSN), are being charged with crimes for the fatal November 2012 explosion of the West 32-E platform in the Gulf of Mexico that left three contract workers dead, several injured, and resulted in an oil spill.

Image of the platform. From USCG.

Houston-based Black Elk Energy, Grand Isle Shipyards, Wood Group PSN, as well as Don Moss of Groves, Texas, Curtis Dantin of Cut-Off, Louisiana, and Christopher Srubar of Destrehan, Louisiana, have all been charged.

According to the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana, in the indictment, Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations and Grand Isle Shipyards are charged with three counts of involuntary manslaughter, eight counts of failing to follow proper safety practices under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) and one count of violating the Clean Water Act. 

Wood Group PSN, Moss, Dantin and Srubar are charged with felony violations of OCSLA and the Clean Water Act.

Black Elk Energy's production platform, which was not in operation at the time of the incident, was located approximately 18mi southeast of Grand Isle, Louisiana, in West Delta Block 32.

The OCSLA and federal regulations govern welding and activities that generate heat or sparks, known as “hot work,” on oil production platforms in US waters. 

“Because this work can be hazardous and cause explosions, regulations mandate specific precautions that must be taken before the work can commence.  For instance, before hot work can be performed, pipes and tanks that had contained hydrocarbons must be isolated from the work or purged of hydrocarbons.  Gas detectors and devices used to prevent gas from travelling through pipes must be used.  According to the Indictment, these safety precautions were not followed and an explosion causing the deaths of three men and a spill resulted,” the DOJ said.

“Workers lives can depend on their employer’s faithfulness to the law, not least of all those working in oil and gas production where safety must be a paramount concern,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and natural resources division.  “The Justice Department is committed to enforcing the nation’s bedrock environmental laws that protect the environment, and the health and safety of all Americans.”   

“The energy sector represents a vital industry in this region, but its work must be performed responsibly,” state US Attorney Kenneth Polite for the Eastern District of Louisiana.  “Today’s indictment underscores that we will hold accountable all parties – both businesses and individuals – whose criminality jeopardizes our environment or risks the loss of life.”

“Developing domestic sources of energy must be done responsibly and safely,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Dan Pflaster of EPA’s Criminal Enforcement Program in Louisiana.  “EPA will continue to work with its law enforcement partners to hold companies fully accountable for illegal conduct and to assure compliance with laws that protect the public and the delicate Gulf Coast ecosystem from harm.”

In August 2013, Black Elk Energy released a third-party investigative report by ABSG on the explosion, which took a deeper look into the contractors involved in the maintenance operations prior to the deadly incident.

The eight-month investigation, which was conducted in coordination with the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), included 11 investigators who reviewed thousands of documents related to the incident, including photographs, design schemes, operational records, permits, emails, and other material.

The report named WGPSN, Grand Isle Shipyard, and Grand Isle Shipyard’s subcontractor DNR Offshore, for failing to adhere to proper safety protocols.

Read more:

Contractors blamed in Black Elk incident report

Black Elk death toll rises

Black Elk fire victim dies

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