Gulf Platform's Operator Ordered to Submit Performance Improvement Plan

BSEE has ordered Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations, LLC, to submit a performance improvement plan by Dec. 15 and to take several corrective actions immediately.

The federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement notified Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations, LLC on Nov. 21 it company must take immediate actions to improve its safety performance in operations on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. BSEE's letter cited enforcement actions it has taken during the past two years, with the agency saying the letter "precedes any potential enforcement actions that may be deemed appropriate following the conclusion of the bureau's investigation into the Nov. 16 explosion and fire aboard the West Delta 32 platform."

"Black Elk has repeatedly failed to operate in a manner that is consistent with federal regulations," said BSEE Director James A. Watson. "BSEE has taken a number of enforcement actions, including issuing numerous Incidents of Non Compliance, levying civil penalties, and calling in the company's senior leadership to review their performance and the ramifications of failing to improve. This is an appropriate and necessary step as we continue to investigate the explosion and fire that resulted in the tragic loss of life and injuries last week."

Black Elk must submit a performance improvement plan by Dec. 15, and BSEE ordered it to take these corrective actions immediately:

1. Keep all facilities currently in a shut-in status in such status until it provides BSEE with documentation of the corrective actions taken to safely return each facility into operational status to BSEE's satisfaction.

2. Notify the appropriate District Office at least 48 hours prior to returning these facilities to production to allow for the proper BSEE inspection.

3. Immediately cease hot work on its facilities until it demonstrates to BSEE's satisfaction that steps have been taken and a safety manager is in place whose responsibility it will be to improve hazard identification, training, and oversight for such operations.

4. Develop a performance improvement plan that, at a minimum:

  • Provides documentation that Black Elk has complied with the requirements of 30 CFR Subpart S
  • Initiates an independent third-party audit of Black Elk's Safety and Environmental Management Systems (SEMS) program, with the audits beginning no later than Jan. 31, 2013
  • Integrates BSEE auditors into the third-party audit team

5. Submit the plan and scope of the audit(s) for approval by BSEE no later than Dec. 15, 2012.

A BSEE fact sheet on Black Elk's safety performance is available here.

The West Delta 32 fire on Nov. 16 was started when a worker used a cutting torch on a section of pipe that contained some oil and vapors, according to Black Elk, which is based in Houston. The company said the rig was shut in, with ordinary maintenance work taking place. The fire was extinguished within an hour on Nov. 16.

The platform is positioned 17 miles southeast of Grand Isle, La., in 56 feet of water. A statement posted by Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations said 22 workers were on the platform at the time of the incident, nine were injured, and 11 workers were safely evacuated.

The statement said the National Response Center, U.S. Coast Guard, and the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement were promptly notified of the incident. "Working in cooperation with federal and local officials, we are doing everything we know to recover the injured workers," CEO John Hoffman said in the statement. "This is a heartbreaking event. Our total focus at this moment is to find the missing workers and care for the injured. We will not let anything stand in the way of these priorities."

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