Black Elk Energy Disaster Not Over Yet

What surfaced on Friday, November 16th as the latest in oil rig explosions continues to plague industry officials as more and more attention is drawn to the unsettling fire that claimed the lives of at least two victims. Now, with an entire weekend behind them, owners of Black Elk Energy – the company responsible for the explosion – are still desperately searching for one worker who has yet to be found. As late as Sunday, a spokesperson for Black Elk Energy reported that additional dive crews and commercial dive boats would be sent out in an effort to increase the search tactics being enforced to find the last crew member to remain missing. While a recent report from the Philippine Embassy in Washington has indicated that all 22 of the workers aboard the rig were from the Philippines, there still seems to be little known about the cause of last week's tragedy, or what will be done to remedy future situations of a similar nature.

Currently, Black Elk Energy has been subpoenaed by federal investigators who are looking to identify the source of Friday's fire. Posed by the Chemical Safety Board, the subpoena asks of Black Elk Energy nine separate questions, all of which have been designed to help establish a framework for further inquiry into the incident as the case progresses. What little has been released by the responsible company, however, has proven to be insufficient for answering the many questions that have arisen since disaster struck on Friday morning.

As of now, all that has been noted by the CEO of Black Elk Energy, John Hoffman, is that the workers on board the rig were intended to perform a "clean cut" using a saw on the water line. According to Mr. Hoffman, a cutting torch might have been used instead, thereby igniting flammable vapors within the pipe that was connected to the wet oil tanks. If this theory is correct, the company could be relieved of the responsibility that has since been associated with it. The truth, however, remains to be seen. To help identify the true source of the disaster, Black Elk Energy has also been asked to turn over documents that relate to the company's safety and environmental programs.

Ever since the unforgettable 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a stricter set of laws and regulations have been in store for offshore operations such as that which was being conducted by the Black Elk Energy company last week. Some lawmakers have even argued for an increase in the fines issued to companies with multiple violations of said regulations, also suggesting that multiple offenders be barred from purchasing or leasing offshore drilling on the continental shelf. While these laws are still in the works, there is no telling what the legal repercussions for Black Elk Energy could be once the results of the disaster have been fully investigated.

Already, additional reports are surfacing concerning the conditions that workers were forced to endure while completing the company's project. Separate from the explosion, other questions are being asked of the offshore industry, and some of the answers to these questions have already ignited more legal controversy. Take, for example, Grand Isle Shipyard which has been slapped with a lawsuit by a group of former Philippine workers who all accuse of unsafe working conditions. Among their complaints: cramped living quarters, substandard pay, and illegally long hours. Filed in late 2011, the lawsuit is likely only one of many that will surface in the wake of the Black Elk Energy disaster.

At Arnold & Itkin we have seen similar incidents of this nature more than should be necessary. In a country with technology and safety standards that outdo many others in the world, there is absolutely no reason for such disasters to occur. The lives that were claimed and the injuries that were sustained in last Friday's explosion too similarly reflect those that were affected in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident. Was nothing learned since then that cannot be implemented in order to foster a safer work environment among the employees of offshore drilling projects?

As legal advocates for some of the victims of the BP oil spill, at Arnold & Itkin, we saw firsthand the devastation that resulted. We anticipate with trepidation the same sort of results after the Black Elk Energy incident. Two years ago, we were there for the victims and family members of Deepwater Horizon, and we will be there again for the victims and families of last week's disaster. As advocates for victimized persons in offshore drilling accidents, we are unwilling to settle for denied claims, nor are we willing to back down from a challenging courtroom case. Instead, we fight tooth and nail for the clients we represent, and we are ready to do the same for you. Please contact a Houston oil rig injury attorney from our office to learn more about the professional legal services that can be provided to you.

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