Common Causes of Oil Rig Explosions

Understanding the Dangers Faced Daily by Oil Rig & Platform Workers

Rig workers face many dangers every day they're on the job. On an oil rig, every task and piece of equipment must be handled with proper training and safety procedures. The most catastrophic danger is an explosion occurring on the rig.

Oil rig workers, both in domestic and foreign waters, face grave dangers because of their occupation. Oil drilling creates many potential hazards, and several different factors could cause a tragic accident. The most catastrophic disaster that can occur is an explosion. Unfortunately, oil platforms have a high-risk of fire or explosion—even though water surrounds them. Between the high use of electricity and fuel to run the different machinery, a tiny spark could have a devastating consequence for the workers on board.

The most notorious oil rig explosion occurred in 2010 when the Deepwater Horizon rig, owned by Transocean, exploded off the coast of Louisiana. On April 20, a massive eruption occurred due to a faulty blowout preventer. The blowout caused a rapid firestorm on the oil platform, and the explosion ended up killing 11 crewmembers on board and injuring dozens more. The oil rig continued to burn for another 36 hours after the explosion occurred and it eventually sank 2 days later. Not only were 11 lives lost, but 4.9 million barrels of oil were dropped into the ocean, causing one of the most devastating spills to the aquatic environment in U.S. history.

Representing Workers Injured Offshore

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In an industry that is responsible for many disastrous accidents, maritime and offshore workers are subjected to the hazardous conditions that come from working on coastal oil rig platforms and drilling projects. Seen as a way of life, many crewmen do not think twice about the dangers of their work, or how they could avoid them. However, at Arnold & Itkin, our injury lawyers frequently encounter the realities of such hazards.

As maritime injury attorneys who played an integral role in the legal representation for many of the victims involved in 2010's Deepwater Horizon incident, we know how to aggressively tackle the defenses that are built by the attorneys who are employed to represent the drilling company. When oil rig tragedies such as the Black Elk Energy explosion strike, the company associated with the accident wastes no time seeking legal representation to protect their commodities in the aftermath. We suggest that you do the same.

If you were injured in an oil rig explosion, you are entitled to justice. Call our attorneys at (888) 493-1629.

Understanding Your Rights Under the Jones Act

With 4,000+ oil rig platforms currently in operation in the Gulf of Mexico—25% of which are manned by workers—this region has grown to become one of the top oil producers in the world. This growth means that a large number of people along the southern coast rely on the work provided by the oil industry. However, make no mistake: this job is not for everyone. Not only is this field hazardous, but it is physically demanding. Workers are expected to long hours under harsh conditions while operating heavy machinery and utilizing various types of equipment.

Although a significant number of safety regulations have been put into place by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM) and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), many of the accidents that have plagued the Gulf in the past several years are attributed human error. For this reason, it is essential for all offshore workers to be aware of what rights they possess under maritime law and, more importantly, the Merchant Marine Act of 1920—which is also known as the Jones Act. Since offshore workers are subjected to many hazards that are uniquely specific to the job that they do out on the water, they must be protected.

The Jones Act was enacted to provide seamen with adequate legal protection against the negligent actions of supervisors and crew members. For example, if an oil rig owner asks their employees to work under unsafe conditions and someone is hurt as a result, that worker should be able to recover compensation for their injuries. Under the Jones Act, this can be done. Whether an oil rig explosion permanently disfigured a worker or if faulty equipment caused significant harmed, they have the right to pursue a civil lawsuit. If you believe that your injuries were caused by another's negligent actions, you should not hesitate to consult with a knowledgeable oil rig explosion attorney at Arnold & Itkin LLP today.

What Caused Your Oil Rig Explosion?

The inherent dangers associated with maritime and offshore work such as drilling and oil rig projects can often be avoided. In many cases, the explosion that left you injured or caused the loss of your family member could have been the result of something entirely avoidable. For example, many of these accidents result from defective equipment, unsafe drilling procedures, and non-standardized industry practices.

Common among the causes of oil rig explosions are as follows:


Due to the large amounts of stored oil, fire is always the #1 threat to cause an explosion. Oil and its byproducts are highly flammable, and it only takes a small spark to ignite it—putting all workers in danger. Often, the spark that starts a fire usually starts in the kitchen or another area and comes in contact with oil after it spreads. In other cases, fires might be caused by exposing oil to other hazardous substances.

Using welding tools near flammable substances can create also sparks and ignite highly flammable chemicals. With the number of flammable materials on and near the rig, workers must be extraordinarily cautious and follow proper safety protocols when performing "hot work" such as welding, cutting, and grinding. If a single spark is exposed to the fuel on an oil platform, it can start a rapid-fire breakout. This was the case of the Black Elk Energy accident where an acetylene torch came into contact with an oil line and ignited a fire that led to an explosion.


Blowouts are the uncontrolled release of oil or gas from the well after pressure control systems have failed. Oil rig blowouts can occur when the rig applies too much pressure during the drilling, causing the pool of underground oil to erupt. When the drill encounters a pressurized zone underground and the gravity of the drilling mud fails to counteract the pressure, it causes a sudden rush of pressure up the system. Once the pressurized natural gases are exposed to a less pressurized atmosphere, there will be a kick. Although blowouts are not as common due to modern blowout preventers, workers should still be trained in how to manage preventer failure to prevent blowouts from occurring.

Defective Oil Rig Equipment

Oil and gas workers are susceptible to many unsafe working conditions. One of the most unsettling conditions is faulty equipment. It is an easily avoidable issue that quickly leads to destruction when neglected. However, equipment does not become defective overnight. It requires the neglect of multiple parties, usually employers or rig masters who become overly focused on profit over safety. Employers desire, above all, to keep business flowing—literally and figuratively. This desire leaves no time for delayed projects—especially when routine maintenance or improperly operating equipment causes the delay. Rather than sacrifice the time needed to inspect the equipment or fix a piece of equipment that is not working correctly, employers often choose to disregard the problem—sacrificing their employees instead.

Potential Defects

The work conducted on oil rigs utilizes heavy machinery and complicated equipment that requires routine maintenance. Unfortunately, maintenance can be costly, and employers are instructed to keep costs of production down, sometimes at the expense of safety or sustainability.

The result? Any of the following potential defects:

  • Corroded pipes and valves
  • Malfunctioning equipment
  • Damaged tongs and cables
  • Inadequate safety measures

In only an instant, a defective piece of equipment can become a full-blown disaster. When equipment fails, there is much more to be lost than just machinery. Equipment failure could cause a pipeline to explode, create a leak, or ignite a chemical fire. Suddenly, the faulty equipment that was once just a hassle to oil rig workers becomes the source of severe personal injury, serious property damage, and possible loss of life.

Is the Risk Worth It?

The expense of fixing a piece of underperforming equipment can be daunting. It is not uncommon for employers to get turned off of the idea of repairing a piece of equipment that is still “working,” even if it is not up to standard. In fact, some employers are so against the thought of spending additional money on maintenance costs that they are willing to risk a full blowout instead. The issue here is that these problems do not get better with time. The defects are left unattended and continue to worsen until disaster is unavoidable. Companies need to value an employee's life above the cost of repairs. When they continue to use defective equipment, disaster can strike—and often does. Disaster victims can suffer catastrophic burn injuries, head trauma, or worse. Some employees even lose their lives in such tragedies.

Negligence in the Oil Industry

Volatile chemicals, high pressures, and aging machinery all combine to create a prime environment for explosions; however, there’s one factor that needs to be added to the mix: negligence. Negligence has caused more disasters in the oil industry than any other factor.

Working on an oil rig platform day-in and day-out can prove to be rigorous. Employees are expected to work more than 12 hours at a time under uncertain conditions, so the last thing they should have to worry about is being injured by the careless actions of a fellow worker or supervisor. However, this is the scary reality that many workers are forced to brave on a daily basis as they can only account for their actions. Fortunately, there are ways in which you can recover just compensation if you have been involved in a preventable accident while on the job. With the help of a qualified lawyer, you can pursue damages through a civil lawsuit.

In doing so, you may be able to obtain reimbursement for the cost of any medical treatment that you have received, the earnings that you have missed out on in the time of your recovery, and possibly even for the cost of the living previously covered when you were working offshore. For this reason, you should not disregard the need to take action in the wake of a severe oil rig injury. Obtaining compensation may be the only way that you can comfortably manage the aftermath of an accident, so the legal team at our firm prompts you to find out how we can assist you.

How Negligence Causes Accidents

Legally defined, negligence is classified as any form of professional conduct that falls below the standards of performance that have been established to protect against any degree of preventable risk. In other words, negligence is when a person fails to show the appropriate amount of care. This definition has a broad application: employers can be found negligent when they install equipment incorrectly, fail to maintain equipment (leading to severe defects), or neglect to train employees in proper safety procedures. This concept frequently comes into play when cases of personal injury are brought to court, especially cases concerning an operation that ended in fire, explosions, or similar incidents.

Captains, employers, and upper-level executives are expected to provide safe working conditions for the employees who report to work each day. This expectation implies regularly inspected machinery, protected equipment, stable rigs/platforms, and well-trained workers and supervisors. In the absence of well-maintained equipment or qualified supervision, accidents can quickly occur. In a matter of seconds, a faulty piece of machinery that has been acting up can suddenly burst into flames, or an unstable, neglected platform can give way.

Any number of unfortunate circumstances on an oil rig or platform could occur from only one act of negligence. In these situations, the company that acted negligently can and should be held responsible.

Establishing Negligence After an Oil Rig Explosion

Establishing negligence requires the plaintiff to prove that the defendant owed a duty that was neglected in some critical way. As these cases relate to oil rig explosions, the plaintiff is considered to be the injured party, and the captain or company that decided to forego the necessary precautions is classified as the defendant. Failure to fix a faulty piece of equipment, or failure to oversee a project to the full extent required of such work, could be taken as negligence and legally pursued as such.

Even the improper manufacturing of a piece of equipment could result in legal claims against the original designers, who could be held responsible. Victims of oil rig explosions can legally take action against the person or entity responsible for their harm. Doing so requires the assistance of a professional lawyer. The legal system is delicate. Procedures must be conducted strictly according to the rules set forth for such matters to be completed. Therefore, victims and families stand the best chance of receiving compensation when they contact an attorney.

Investigating the Cause of an Oil Rig Explosion

After an oil rig explosion, all hands will be on deck to uncover the nature of the explosion; in essence, every action will be taken to determine what caused the disaster. Drilling executives, Coast Guard officials, and a slew of other industry professionals will immediately begin investigating the matter. At this time, victims of the explosion need to make sure that they have a legal representative doing the same for them. Only when a lawyer builds a strong case on their behalf do victims of oil rig explosions stand a chance of being adequately compensated.

More invested in their profits, drilling companies will spend large sums of money on the attorneys that have been chosen to represent them in the aftermath of an accident. Any amount of money paid for legal representation will pale in comparison to the amount that could be owed. As such, these companies are willing to go to great lengths to avoid paying out the sums that could come from a personal injury lawsuit.

Proper Equipment Maintenance Essential to Preventing Oil Rig Accidents

Oil rigs are an inherently dangerous working environment. Due to the nature of the operation and the combustible materials on the platform, following proper safety protocols is paramount to avoid catastrophic accidents such as blowouts and explosions. While much of the safety focus is on the day-to-day operations, the most critical aspect is properly maintaining the equipment on the rig. Proper maintenance of the oil rig and its equipment ensures that it is all working and functioning as designed, which limits malfunctions that could potentially lead to a severe accident. If the company that owns and operates the oil rig fails to keep up with scheduled maintenance, it puts all of the rig workers in serious jeopardy.

A prime example of what can happen when a company does not properly maintain its equipment is the 2005 Texas City refinery explosion. The explosion killed 15 workers and injured dozens more. An investigation by the Chemical Safety Board determined that a primary culprit was a lack of preventive maintenance of several safety critical systems and the use of an outdated blowdown drum technology. The CSB also noted that the refinery's infrastructure was in poor condition.

Unfortunately, companies are all too often unmotivated to keep up with maintenance on the equipment and oil rig. Maintenance costs money and the company loses production during the time the platform is down for the maintenance. The combination of those two things provides an incentive for companies to skip or delay scheduled maintenance, even though it puts workers at risk. The sad truth is that many times it takes an accident that causes the death or injury of a worker before a company will address the maintenance problems.

Our Lawyers Have Recovered Billions for the Injured. Call (888) 493-1629!

If you were injured or if a loved one was killed in an oil rig explosion, it is important to have an experienced attorney on your side. Explosions are complicated matters; determining the cause and who is responsible requires extensive knowledge of the industry, significant resources to conduct a thorough investigation, and the tenacity to take on the deep-pocketed oil companies. We not only have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with the major oil companies, but we have done it before. Following the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, we represented nearly a third of the crew.

When it comes to facing negligent oil companies, our Houston maritime law attorneys have a uniquely powerful experience. As advocates for the victims of accidents such as the infamous BP spill, we have personally seen how difficult it can be to take down a negligent company in court, even when the evidence is stacked against them. Fortunately, we have also seen how to challenge legal professionals on the other side, and we have developed courtroom tactics that have proven to be useful on many occasions. Arnold & Itkin has secured billions of dollars in compensation for our clients, many of whom were victims of maritime accidents such as an oil rig explosion. We won't stop until we've secured the best results for you.

For help retrieving compensation for your offshore injury, contact our office today. Your consultation is free!

Common Questions

  • What Causes Oil Rig Explosions?

    The causes of oil rig explosions often come down to a combination of defective equipment, unsafe drilling procedures, and insufficient maintenance. These factors then cause equipment failures, fires, and blowouts that create a tremendous loss of life. Many explosions could be prevented if drilling companies took more time to maintain their equipment and create a culture of caution and safety, instead of the high-pressure, quarterly earnings-driven culture many oil rigs suffer from.
  • What Are Oil Rig Blowouts?

    Blowouts occur when pressurized gas, oil, and other materials shoot up through the main drilling pipe and cause a violent explosion. Blowouts are usually handled by the rig's blowout preventer, but these components have failed in the past. The most infamous blowout in oil drilling history was the Deepwater Horizon explosion, and that was caused by a failure of the blowout preventer.
  • Can Defective Machinery Cause an Oil Rig Explosion?

    Defective equipment is a major contributor to oil rig explosions. Often what happens is a company won't invest the proper amount of time into regular maintenance, so equipment starts to wear out. Worn out equipment includes corroded pipes and valves, damaged cables, and malfunctioning safety equipment. Lack of maintenance not only creates defective equipment, but also contributes to a general culture of unsafe practices.
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