Accused of cutting corners and neglecting federal safety precautions, three companies and three supervisors were recently charged with causing an explosion that resulted in the deaths of three workers and an oil spill. The fatal explosion occurred one day after BP agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Located about 17 miles from Grand Isle, Louisiana, Black Elk Energy’s oil drilling platform had been inactive for several weeks and was preparing to resume production when the explosion occurred. On the morning of November 16, 2012, the workers attended a safety meeting on the platform when construction supervisor Don Moss arrived late and told the employees “to finish up today because he was ready to go home and drink a beer.”
“I took it kind of offensively, because he was rushing these people up, and when you rush, mistakes are made,” a mechanic named Harold Seghers Jr. stated during a deposition.
Instead of following federal regulations, the supervisors decided to save time by neglecting to purge hydrocarbons from the pipes and tanks before welding. They also failed to use gas detectors or other devices to prevent gas from travelling through the pipes. Shortly after the safety meeting, a worker accidentally ignited oil vapors while welding pipe, triggering a chain reaction that caused the oil tanks to explode.
Several employees were injured in the blast, which resulted in three fatalities. Suffering from severe burns, Avelino Tajonera died at a Baton Rouge hospital a week after the fatal explosion. The bodies of Ellroy Corporal and Jerome Malagapo were recovered from the water.
“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 Cruden.
After identifying a series of safety lapses that caused the explosion, federal regulators discovered that many workers had ceased raising safety concerns for fear of losing their jobs before the explosion. On Thursday, the Justice Department announced that a federal grand jury indicted Black Elk Energy, two of its contractors, and three supervisors for the deaths of three workers and causing another oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
According to the indictment, the defendants were involved in different capacities while construction work was being performed on the West Delta 32 platform when it exploded. Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations LLC and Grand Isle Shipyards Inc. were 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 Inc., Compass Engineering construction supervisor Don Moss, Grand Isle Shipyard construction supervisor Curtis Dantin, and Wood Group production supervisor Christopher Srubar were charged with felony violations of OCSLA and the Clean Water Act.
One day before the explosion, BP agreed to plead guilty to felony manslaughter, environmental crimes, and obstruction of Congress. BP also agreed to pay $4 billion in criminal fines and penalties for its conduct leading to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed 11 people and caused the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history. Instead of acting as a deterrent against further negligence, BP’s guilty plea had no effect on those responsible for the deaths of three people and yet another oil spill.