Federal regulators today warned the oil company whose platform off of Plaquemines Parish suffered a deadly fire last Friday that it must improve its operations or face possible revocation of its license to operate in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement sent a letter to Black Elk Energy of Houston and its CEO and president John Hoffman, telling him that his company has until Dec. 15 to come up with a plan to improve safety operations. (See letter)
The letter also notes the company's shoddy safety record in its two years of approved operations in the Gulf. It cited 'a number of significant safety violations that demonstrate a disregard for the safety of personnel.' (See safety record statistics)
Company spokeswoman Erin Dow said Black Elk is working with the BSEEregulators in the wake of Friday's accident.
'We appreciate the perspective of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement,' Dow said in an email to WWL-TV. 'Safety is a high priority for Black Elk Energy and we will continue to work cooperatively with local and national federal agencies to understand exactly what happened with the incident at our platform in the Gulf of Mexico.'
One worker was killed in last Friday's explosion and fire on Black Elk's West Delta 32 A/E platform, another is missing and presumed dead and four more suffered serious burns.
'Black Elk has repeatedly failed to operate in a manner that is consistent with federal regulations,' BSEE Director James A. Watson said in a statement. 'BSEE has taken a number of enforcement actions, including issuing numerous Incidents of Non Compliance (INCs), levying civil penalties and calling in the company's senior leadership to review their performance and the ramifications of failing to improve. This is an appropriate and necessary step as we continue to investigate the explosion and fire that resulted in the tragic loss of life and injuries last week.'
Specifically, the bureau noted that inspectors from its Lafayette district office issued 45 INCs to Black Elk in October for violations on nine facilities it operates near South Marsh Island. It also mentioned findings a year earlier, in October 2011, when the company's use of an acid-based chemical that sent six workers to the hospital.
The letter from BSEE regional director Lars Herbst also says that Black Elk had a meeting with BSEE officials at the Lake Jackson district in April and was warned that it 'would be placed on notice if it did not improve its operations.'
A BSEE summary of its inspections of Black Elk's 98 facilities in the Gulf shows that it's been cited for 315 violations during the course of 214 inspections since 2010. Of those 315 violations, 157 were considered 'severe' enough to force Black Elk to shut down at least some of its operations, and 12 violations were considered bad enough to force Black Elk to shut down its entire facility until the problem was corrected.
The government said it wants a comprehensive review of all of those previous incidents and how Black Elk has improved its processes to address those problems. In addition, it must hire a third party to conduct an audit of its Safety and Environmental Management Systems, or SEMS, program by the end of January. The government created new requirements for operators to have SEMS programs in place after BP's catastrophic Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and oil spill in 2010.
BSEE also released the inspection history for Black Elk's West Delta 32 Platform A/E, a facility that also includes the block's Platform D Quarters. It shows 35 Incidents of Non-Compliance in nine inspections since June 24, 2010. Of those, more than half (18) were serious enough to force Black Elk to stop at least some operations. And in two cases, they were forced to shut down the whole facility because federal inspectors found that Black Elk had failed to ensure the safety of the platform and its workers.
On June 10, 2011, an inspector found that Black Elk's failure to 'perform all operations in a safe and workmanlike manner and provide for the preservation and conservation of property and the environment' posed 'an immediate danger to the entire facility.'
On June 24, 2010, the inspector cited Black Elk for failing to 'provide for the safety of all personnel and (failing to) take all necessary precautions to correct and remove any hazardous oil and gas accumulation or other health, safety, or fire hazards.' Again, the company was forced to shut in the whole facility.