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Faulty Decisions Behind Fatal Black Elk Explosion, Fire

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The explosion and fire that killed three workers last year on a Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations, LLC-operated production platform resulted from the failure of Black Elk and contractors to follow Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) safety regulations.

BSEE released Monday the panel investigation report on the Nov. 16, 2012 incident. Ellroy Corporal, Jerome Malagapo, and Avelino Tajonera were killed in the incident, which also resulted in serious injuries to others and the discharge of pollutants into the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.

BSEE Director Brian Salerno said in a Nov. 4 press statement that the failures that resulted in the workers’ deaths “reflect a disregard for the safety of workers on the platform and are the antithesis of the type of safety culture that should guide decision-making in all offshore oil and gas operations.”

The panel cited specific safety failures, including:

  • No hazard identification
  • Conducting “hot work” without taking required safety precautions
  • Failure to isolate hydrocarbons inside an oil tank
  • Ineffective communication among contractors
  • A climate in which workers feared retaliation if they raised safety concerns

The panel also concluded that BSEE regulations addressing welding operations, which identify precautions that need to be taken prior to welding operations in areas or equipment that might contain hydrocarbons, were not followed.

As part of the panel’s recommendations, operators at all manned Outer Continental Shelf facilities should conduct a “safety stand down” of operations to discuss the events leading to the explosion and fire at the West Delta Block 32 E platform and review proper safety procedures.

“Regular safety stand downs, using real world examples to illustrate the potentially tragic consequences that can result from the failure to consider safety at all times, are important and should be undertaken,” Salerno commented.


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Karen Boman has more than 10 years of experience covering the upstream oil and gas sector. Email Karen at


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