West Delta 32 Fire
What Caused the Accident?
West Delta 32, an oil platform owned by Black Elk Energy, caught fire on November 16, 2012, around 9:00 in the morning. Initial reports indicated several missing crew members, possible fatalities, and numerous serious injuries. Although the platform was not producing natural gas at the time of the accident, approximately 26 crew members were on board when construction work aboard the vessel resulted in an explosion and fire.
Some speculate the explosion was caused by workers when they used a blow torch to cut through a pipe. According to news articles, the sparks from the blowtorch may have been thrown onto containers holding oil residue, resulting in the fire. Others say the workers were not even welding when the accident happened.
Grand Isle Shipyard employed 14 of the crewmen on the ship. The CEO of Grand Isle said that "initial reports that a welding torch was being used at the time of the incident or that an incorrect line was cut are completely inaccurate." According to the CEO, the blowtorch on the platform had not been used when the accident occurred. He also said that initial investigation had not revealed the exact cause of the accident.
Injuries, Fatalities & Environmental Impact
Reports indicated that about two dozen workers were on board the platform. 11 workers were injured—4 hospitalized, 2 missing. Several days after the explosion, divers located the body of one missing worker underneath the platform. Of the hospitalized workers, several suffered significant burns, but only two remained in critical condition for several days. Although the Coast Guard received a report of a dark substance below the surface of the water surrounding the accident, later news reports denied the existence of a significant spill. Anywhere between 3.5 gallons and 15.8 barrels of oil may have been released into the gulf, but a spill this size is not likely to damage the surrounding environment.
Black Elk Energy
Based in Houston, Black Elk Energy is a five-year-old independent oil and gas company devoted to acquiring, exploiting, and developing properties with these resources. The company currently has an interest in 560,000 acres of oil leases. In its short existence, Black Elk has devoted its energy to buying seemingly dried up oil and gas wells along the Louisiana and Texas coasts; they have made it their business to extract from them whatever oil remains. Although the company has only been operating for a short time, they have already acquired a spotty safety record.
Within just a few months, the High Island well blew, and its shear rams failed to stem the flow of oil.
The well had to be plugged and abandoned. In September 2012, Black Elk paid a $300,000 fine as a punishment for failing an April 2011 safety inspection on one of its platforms; the company was not following safety procedures at that location. The company is also facing an additional $140,000 fine over penalties at another platform dating back to October 2011. Despite its problems maintaining safe operations at its 1167 wells, Black Elk announced in October 2012 that it plans to drill 23 new wells in the Gulf of Mexico.
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