$4 Million Fine for Gulf of Mexico Operator
Energy Resource Technology GOM, a subsidiary of Talos Energy, was sentenced to three years’ probation and ordered to pay a $4 million fine and a $200,000 community service payment this week for failing to comply with hot work safety rules, blowout preventer testing requirements and overboard discharge rules.
U.S. District Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana handed down the sentence after the company pleaded guilty to the charges.
According to court documents, in November 2012, Energy Resources Technology GOM (ERT) failed to comply with the regulations for hot work on its offshore production platform Ship Shoal 225. Contractors violated regulations which mandate that welding and associated activities on offshore facilities shall not take place within 10 feet of a well bay unless production in that area is shut-in.
Additionally ERT failed to comply with the regulations for blowout preventer testing. According to the pressure chart for the tests conducted by ERT’s contractors on November 27, 2012, only six of the seven required components were tested. The chart showed pressure testing failures that required the workers on the platform to re-test the blowout preventer system. However, they did not.
ERT also violated the Clean Water Act by tampering with the method of collecting the monthly overboard produced water discharge samples to be tested for oil and grease content. In Spring 2014, ERT became suspicious that contract operators were manipulating the integrity of the overboard produced water samples at some of its platforms by filtering the sample through coffee filters.
When ERT began an investigation, the results of which it self-reported to the United States, multiple platforms were shown to be in violation of the monthly discharge allowances including High Island 557A, South Marsh Island 107A, Ship Shoal 225, Ship Shoal 224A, East Cameron 346A, Eugene Island 302C, South Timbalier 63A, Vermilion 331A and 171A.
ERT’s most recent Clean Water Action violation occurred in June, 2015. Two contract operators on platform Vermilion 195A were engaged in bleeding pressure from the production casing on a plugged well. Operators routinely encounter liquid, including pollutants such as well bore fluid, acid, and hydrocarbon/oil residue, when bleeding pressure from well casings, and therefore precautions against an unpermitted discharge into the Gulf of Mexico should be taken.
However, the two contract operators attached a hose to the valve from which the casing pressure was to be released and put the end of the hose at the edge of the platform, allowing well bore fluid mixed with hydrocarbons to enter the water.