In the wake of last week’s explosion on a Black Elk Energy oil rig in the Gulf Coast, new information is surfacing about the company’s safety record on its platforms. This explosion is the fourth notable incident and the second fire to have involved Black Elk facilities in the last two years alone.
Due to the extremely dangerous conditions surrounding workers on oil rigs and drilling platforms, companies must remain constantly vigilant. Inadequate safety precautions or negligent maintenance work can easily lead to dangerous oil rig explosions.
Black Elk Energy, based in Houston, operates 155 oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. On top of the already hazardous working environments associated with the oil industry, these facilities have attracted safety criticism in three separate incidents leading up to this explosion.
One of these incidents involved another fire. The Department of the Interior concluded that a malfunctioning battery charger ignited on the platform. Given the close proximity to numerous flammable chemicals, any fire on an oil rig can easily burn out of control and cause an explosion.
Earlier this year, a Black Elk employee sued the company, alleging that it was not maintaining a safe workplace and that it allowed unreasonably hazardous working conditions to endanger its staff.
As recently as September, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management cited Black Elk for a dangerous maintenance failure. According to government reports, the company paid $307,500 for failing to test an important oil well component for leaks. Black Elk apparently ignored the well for more than six months. Leaking equipment is also a leading cause of oil rig explosions – spilled chemicals can easily come in contact with a source of ignition.
This history of safety failings suggests that a similar problem may have led to the most recent explosion that killed two workers and severely injured four more. When an oil company’s negligent safety practices lead to accidents like this, the victims are entitled to hold the company responsible.
Source: CBS News, “2 missing, 4 badly burned in Gulf platform fire,” Nov. 16, 2012