Charges Laid over 2012 Gulf of Mexico Explosion
Three companies and three individuals have been charged over the explosion on the West Delta 32 oil production platform in the Gulf of Mexico that occurred in 2012.
Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations, Grand Isle Shipyards, Wood Group PSN, as well as Don Moss, 46, of Groves, Texas, Curtis Dantin, 50, of Cut-Off, Louisiana, and Christopher Srubar, 40, of Destrehan, Louisiana, have been charged with crimes associated with the explosion that resulted in the death of three workers, the injury of others and an oil spill.
The explosion and fire occurred when hydrocarbon vapors ignited while a worker was welding on the incoming pipe segment to a wet oil tank. The ignition started a chain reaction that caused the wet oil tank and two connected dry oil tanks to explode. These explosions caused the three tanks to separate at their bases, launching the wet oil tank and the first dry oil tank into the Gulf of Mexico and blowing the second dry oil tank into the air. The second dry oil tank then struck the platform crane and landed back on the platform. The hydrocarbons in all three of the tanks were released onto the platform and into the Gulf of Mexico. The hydrocarbons on the platform subsequently ignited, starting a fire on the platform.
The news of the charges was announced by the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
According to the indictment, the defendants were involved in different capacities while construction work was being done of the West Delta 32 platform when it exploded. Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations and Grand Isle Shipyards are charged with three counts of involuntary manslaughter, eight counts of failing to follow proper safety practices under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) and one count of violating the Clean Water Act. Wood Group PSN, Moss, Dantin and Srubar are charged with felony violations of OCSLA and the Clean Water Act.
“Workers lives can depend on their employer’s faithfulness to the law, not least of all those working in oil and gas production where safety must be a paramount concern,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and natural Resources Division. “The Justice Department is committed to enforcing the nation’s bedrock environmental laws that protect the environment, and the health and safety of all Americans.”
The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and federal regulations govern welding and activities that generate heat or sparks, known as “hot work,” on oil production platforms in U.S. waters. Because this work can be hazardous and cause explosions, regulations mandate specific precautions that must be taken before the work can commence. For instance, before hot work can be performed, pipes and tanks that had contained hydrocarbons must be isolated from the work or purged of hydrocarbons. Gas detectors and devices used to prevent gas from travelling through pipes must be used.
According to the Indictment, these safety precautions were not followed and an explosion causing the deaths of three men and a spill resulted.
An indictment is only an allegation of wrongdoing and the defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty at trial.
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement report on the incident is available here.