Report blames welding for fatal Gulf oil rig fire

GULF OF MEXICO — A consultant’s report for a Texas-based company says a deadly 2012 explosion on its Gulf of Mexico oil platform off the Louisiana coast happened when workers for a subcontractor used unsafe welding practices.

The report was released today, the same day two injured workers and their spouses filed a $180 million federal lawsuit in connection with the accident.

ABSG Consulting did the study and report for Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations, which released the report and also made it available on its website. Three Filipino workers died in the Nov. 16 accident, which occurred at a time when production was shut down and a construction project was underway on the platform, according to the report.

ABSG says Grand Isle Shipyard Inc. was under contract for construction work when the blast happened. ABSG says Grand Isle had committed not to use subcontractors on Black Elk projects. However, the report says, workers doing the welding were employees of a subcontractor: DNR Offshore and Crewing Services.

A series of explosions occurred when workers were welding a pipe leading to a tank, known as a “wet oil tank,” according to the report.

“The WOT contained hydrocarbons, and the piping leading to it had not been isolated and made safe for welding,” the ABSG report said.

The report said Grand Isle and another contractor overseeing work on the platform, identified as Wood Group PSN, did not properly carry out welding processes, sometimes referred to as “hot work.” It said Grand Isle and DNR failed to stop work when “unexpected conditions” — including the smell of gas — arose.

Grand Isle’s use of a subcontractor was a factor in the accident because it prevented Black Elk from “effectively auditing the employers of all personnel on their facilities,” the report said.

The consultant also recommended that Black Elk provide additional oversight for construction activities on platforms and discourage the use of “hot work” on platforms.

Black Elk, Wood Group and others are named as defendants in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in New Orleans by two workers injured in the accident, Antonio Tamayo and Wilberto Ilagan, and their spouses.

Alleging physical and mental injuries, numerous medical expenses and loss of future wages, among other things, the four ask for $20 million each in actual damages, plus a total of $100 million in punitive damages “if any of the defendants are found to have been grossly or intentionally negligent.”

Black Elk did not return a call Wednesday seeking comment on the lawsuit. Grand Isle officials did not immediately return a call for comment. A Louisiana attorney who has done work for DNR did not return a call for comment.

Wood Group responded to a telephoned request for comment with an emailed statement. “We are committed to preventing injuries to our people and everyone we work with. We will continue to review our procedures regularly and to provide our people with the training, knowledge and tools they need to work safely and prevent future accidents,” the statement said.

The federal agency that oversees offshore oil and gas safety, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, is still investigating the accident, a spokeswoman, Eileen Angelico, said in response to an email query. The bureau received the consultant’s report and was reviewing it, Angelico said.

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