Black Elk Energy Faces Felony Charges in Connection with 2012 Explosion that Killed Three

Federal felony charges were filed in New Orleans, Louisiana this week against Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations in connection with a 2012 explosion at an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico that killed three workers and badly injured three others.


The criminal charges track a 2013 report from the Bureau of Safety and Enforcement that found that the deaths were “caused by a number of decisions, actions and failures by Black Elk and contractors retained by Black Elk while conducting construction operations.”

“These failures reflect a disregard for the safety of workers on the platform and are the antithesis of the type of safety culture that should guide decision-making in all offshore oil and gas operations,” the report found.

Specific safety failures include — no hazard identification; conducting “hot work” without taking required safety precautions; failure to isolate hydrocarbons inside an oil tank; ineffective communication among contractors; and a climate in which workers feared retaliation if they raised safety concerns.

University of Maryland law professor Rena Steinzor is the author of the book — Why Not Jail? Industrial Catastrophes, Corporate Malfeasance, and Government Inaction.

Steinzor says that the criminal charges in the Black Elk Energy case is momentous because offshore drilling in deepwater is the equivalent of “the Wild West without a sheriff.”

“Now, it would seem, if this most dangerous of industries goes so far as to kill its workers, at least the company will pay,” Steinzor said.  “I only hope a few senior managers are indicted.”

“Three workers were killed here in an entirely preventable explosion caused by a reckless disregard of fundamental safety rules.  They were sent into weld near a tank emitting highly flammable gases and the big surprise is that more did not die.“

“Throughout the Gulf and in the Arctic, regulators are days late, many dollars short and even when they ride into town, they give advance warning because they get to the rigs by helicopter, asking for permission to both land and stay aboard.

“As the Deepwater Horizon disaster showed, operations are high hazard and bad communication between warring contractors makes such risks even worse,” Steinzor said.

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