Almost three years after a platform fire and explosion that killed three workers working off the shore of Louisiana, federal prosecutors have filed criminal charges against the Houston-based company, Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations. The criminal complaint, filed in a New Orleans federal court, alleges that multiple safety violations led to the accident in November 2012.
The criminal complaint has similar issues with the company to the ones raised in findings from a panel of oil and gas experts from the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the Coast Guard in 2013. Then the panel concluded that “a number of decisions, actions and failures” from both Black Elk and its subcontractors had created a sort of perfect storm set up for something to go wrong. The panel also found that poor planning and bad communication were a big part of the problem.
On the logistics side of things, there weren't any gas detectors near the welding areas on the platform. Workers thought some pipes were empty but they actually had oil in them. On top of that, the panel had found that the crew was simply badly trained and the "safety culture" at Black Elk didn't exist, according to the Baton Rouge Advocate.
Federal prosecutors maintain in a six-count criminal complaint, that all of this led directly to the accident that killed three Filipino construction workers and badly injured three others. On November 16, 2012, welders were working near a wet oil tank, trying to weld pipe on, when vapors ignited and set off a chain of explosions. Two of the tanks shot into the Gulf and the third smacked into the oil platform, according to the 2013 report from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. Oil showered the platform and 480 barrels of oil and water was ultimately dumped into the Gulf waters, which is why the company is facing one count about alleged violations of the Clean Water Act.
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Altogether, the company is now looking at a six-count criminal complaint over the incident. The other five counts are over safety violations.