On Friday morning local time, a fire and explosion ripped through an oil platform owned by Black Elk Energy in the Gulf of Mexico near the mouth of the Mississippi River. The company is a minor oil producer, and was started in 2007 by John Hoffman, a former BP Amoco executive. Despite being a small and relatively new oil company, Black Elk has racked up a long rap sheet of close calls, safety violations, and fines.
Indications are that this oil rig explosion is unlikely to turn into a major disaster, fortunately. The platform was located in 56 feet of water in the West Delta Block 32 of the Gulf of Mexico. According to an interview with Hoffman, workers were in the final stages of a maintenance job when they were to perform a “clean cut” with a saw on a water line. Instead of using a saw, the worker used a cutting torch instead. This ignited vapors in the line, that fire then ignited fuel stored in a nearby tank, causing an explosion.
According to data filed with the U.S. Government, Black Elk holds at least 88 oil and gas leases and last quarter pumped 14,000 barrels of oil and oil equivalents per day. The Houston-based company, currently holds interests in properties in Texas and Louisiana waters, including 854 wells on 155 platforms, and recently announced an expansion with plans to drill 23 new wells in the Gulf of Mexico.
Black Elk was investigated by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) in August for an incident where two workers fell from a crane at least 60 feet into the water.
In September, while repairing a leak at another well near High Island, workers had to activate the blowout preventer to control the well. Regulators later ordered that well to be plugged and abandoned.
SEC filings by Black Elk show a $300,000 fine paid in September, due to a 2011 site visit that discovered various compliance issues.
In February 2011, a small fire broke out at a Black Elk platform that was quickly put out.
Source: Reuters (Chicago Tribune),
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