Two GoM Offshore Platform Managers Charged in Connection With Spills

File image courtesy Smithsonian

Published Jan 20, 2021 10:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

Two employees of Houston-based Fieldwood Energy have been indicted for their involvement in two separate oil spills on company platforms in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. 

The cases in question do not allege wrongdoing by Fieldwood itself, but rather focus on the actions of platform managers with safety responsibilities. In a statement, Fieldwood referred inquiries about the two cases to the defendants' lawyers. 

The first indictment was filed against Brandon Wall, 42, an area foreman for the region that included Fieldwood platform Grand Isle-43AA. The platform had issues with sand buildup in a production filtration system, and instead of shutting in the well to repair or replace the filters, Wall allegedly told the third-party contract operators to circumvent automatic shutdown systems and "keep it flowing." 

According to charging documents, Wall and other company employees were aware that safety systems were in bypass; the operators allegedly joked that the motto for the facility was not "Safety, Compliance, Production," but rather "Safe and sound until production's down." 

"Indeed, Wall monitored the control room on GI-43AA and encouraged other Company A [Fieldwood] employees and operators to continue production instead of shutting in the platform," prosecutors alleged. 

In January 2018, GI-43AA discharged oil and pollutants into the water. Wall eventually informed federal regulators of the discharge, and when officials arrived, they saw a sheen on the water surface.

Wall has been charged with rendering safety systems inaccurate and negligently discharging oil. If convicted, he could face a sentence of one to ten years and substantial fines.

The second case alleges that the designated person-in-charge for Fieldwood platform MP-310A was complicit in allowing a known oil discharge to continue unaddressed. In 2015, MP-310A developed sand plugging problems with its filtration system for produced water, and workers spotted sheening in the water. 

Instead of shutting in production and fixing the filters, person-in-charge Patrick Huse, 40, allegedly ordered personnel to keep the platform running with minor changes. This caused further sheening, but Huse did not report it to federal officials. The discharge continued for another four days, and only ceased when an operator decided to activate the emergency shutdown to address the sheening. 

Huse allegedly instructed platform personnel to mislead federal inspectors about the reason for the shut-in and personally misrepresented the cause to officials. 

Huse stands accused of negligently discharging a harmful quantity of oil, knowingly discharging a harmful quantity of oil, failing to report the discharge, and falsifying inspection records. If convicted, he faces a potential jail term of one to ten years and fines ranging into the hundreds of thousands of dollars per day of violation. 

Fieldwood is one of the largest operators in the U.S. Gulf, and it is the inheritor of Apache's GoM shelf business, SandRidge's GoM and Gulf Coast operations and Noble Energy's GoM deepwater assets. It declared bankruptcy in August 2020 and is currently working through a restructuring process, including a dispute with Exxon over legacy costs.