Just one day after BP admitted to felony manslaughter charges, and agreed to pay a record $4.5 Billion Dollar fine from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, there was an explosion and fire aboard Black Elk Energys' West Delta Block 32 production platform, possibly killing 2 workers of the Grand Isle Shipyard, who have been missing since the explosion on Friday, and injuring 9 others. Seven workers remain hospitalized, four of whom are critically injured. Black Elk Energy LLC, is owned and operated by Long time former BP Executive, John Hoffman.
The explosion occurred when a worker attempted to cut through a pipeline connected to a tank containing gas vapors. An investigation by federal officials will likely focus on why the line contained oil and gas when it was cut. Eric Smith, associate director of the Tulane Energy institute said, “The line should have been depressurized, purged and filled with nitrogen or another inert gas” that would not catch fire before the line was cut.
"They have a normal procedure where they will investigate what happened, they'll interview everybody and they will come to their conclusions," Smith continued to say. "This is a fire, the fire is out, there may be some sheen for a day or two but probably no significant loss of oil and gas, and the company will be subjected to fines and investigation to make sure that this doesn't become a common occurrence."
According to The Times Picayune, Black Elk has moved into a unique niche in the offshore oil and gas environment off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas, buying up oil and gas wells that had seemingly reached the end of their lives, and reworking them to extract remaining oil, Hoffman said. “We are part of an evolution in the Gulf of Mexico where these properties become unimportant, if you will, to the larger companies,” Hoffman said. “We have a lot of expertise and we go into these properties and continue to get additional reserves for the U.S.”
But some environmental groups worry that smaller companies like Black Elk may not be able to afford either the post-Deepwater Horizon safety requirements issued by the new federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the Coast Guard, or the cost of clean-up of oil spills.
“The ink was barely dry on the BP settlement” when the accident occurred, said Anne Rolfes, founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “This accident is sad evidence of the obvious: The oil industry is a rogue industry with an accident problem that it refuses to address.”
The Times Picayune also reported the company’s most recent quarterly financial report to the Securities & Exchange Commission describes an accident very similar to the Deepwater Horizon’s blowout preventer failure at Black Elk’s High Island 443 A-2 ST well, off Texas. The report said blind/shear rams, similar to metal scissors, failed to close and shut in the well. Tests found that casing piping inside the well “to be most likely compromised,” and BSEE ordered the well plugged and abandoned.
A Houston TX. based company, Black Elk Energy has been in existence only 5 years, but has already racked up a history of safety violations, the most recent being a $307,500 fine paid just last September of failing to properly test and regulate a surface controlled subsurface safety valve (SCSSV). And it’s facing another civil penalty of $140,000 for an October 2011 incident on another platform.
It appears to this writer that Mr. Hoffman has taken the BP culture of playing fast and loose with safety regulations to his new Black Elk operation.