BSEE: Black Elk, Contractors to Blame for WD 32 E Platform Explosion

BSEE Black Elk, Contractors to Blame for WD 32 E Platform Explosion

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) today released the panel investigation report into the November 16, 2012 explosion and fire that occurred on a platform operated by Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations.

The explosion and fire resulted in the tragic deaths of Ellroy Corporal, Jerome Malagapo, and Avelino Tajonera, serious injuries to others, and the discharge of pollutants into the Gulf of Mexico.

The investigation panel, comprised of professionals from BSEE and the United States Coast Guard, found these deaths were caused by a number of decisions, actions, and failures by Black Elk and contractors retained by Black Elk while conducting construction operations. “These failures 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,” said BSEE Director Brian Salerno. The report concludes that BSEE safety regulations were not followed, and accordingly BSEE will proceed with appropriate enforcement actions.

Cause of Explosion/Fire

Black Elk retained a number of contractors to complete work on the WD 32 complex, including: Compass Engineering Consultants, L.L.C. (Compass), for management and oversight of the construction work; Grand Isle Shipyard (GIS), for the provision of workers for the various construction projects (GIS subcontracted with DNR Offshore and Crewing Services, Inc. (DNR)); Wood Group Production Services Network (WGPSN), for the management of the production equipment and performance of production-related operations; Shamrock, for mechanical services; and Enviro-Tech Systems, for the removal and replacement of a flotation cell
(equipment used to separate oil and water during production). Each of these contractors was also responsible for conducting safe operations in compliance with all applicable regulations. At the time of the explosion, no Black Elk personnel were present at the WD 32 complex. An investigation panel comprised of professionals from BSEE and the United States Coast Guard (the Panel) conducted an extensive investigation of the incident and identified a number of causes of the explosion and fire. The Panel found that the explosion and fire occurred when hydrocarbon vapors ignited while a GIS/DNR worker was welding on the incoming pipe segment to the wet oil tank located in the Lease Automatic Custody Transfer (LACT unit) area.
The ignition started a chain reaction that caused the wet oil tank and two connected dry oil tanks to explode. These explosions caused the three tanks to separate at their bases, launching the wet oil tank and the first dry oil tank into the Gulf of Mexico and blowing the second dry oil tank into the air. The second dry oil tank then struck the platform crane and landed back on the WD 32 E platform. The hydrocarbons in all three of the tanks were released onto the platform and into the Gulf of Mexico. The hydrocarbons on the platform subsequently ignited, starting a fire on the platform.

The failure to properly secure the oil tanks, purge their pipelines, and follow established hot work procedures allowed the flammable vapors to reach a hot work area. The flammable vapors originating from these oil tanks reached the area where the GIS/DNR workers were tack welding a flange. Once the vapors were ignited by the welding work, the flame traveled from tank to tank due to the tanks’ piping configuration. Due to the headspace in each tank, a combustible atmosphere inside each tank was created. Once this combustible atmosphere ignited, the increased pressures created inside each of the tanks could not be released fast enough through the vent system. These increased pressure levels exceeded the structural strength of the tanks and caused the tanks to fail at their base welds. This increased pressure and failure at the base welds resulted in two of the
tanks breaking away from their base and launching off of the WD 32 E platform, eventually landing in the GOM. The third tank also broke away at its base weld and launched from the platform, however this tank struck the platform crane and landed back on the WD 32 E platform. The liquid contents of all three tanks were released from the bottom of each tank onto the platform and into the GOM. The flames that traveled through the tanks also ignited these hydrocarbons as they were released onto the platform and into the GOM.

Safety stand down

Based on the findings and recommendations of the panel that operators conduct a “safety stand down,” Director Salerno strongly requests that all operators with personnel at manned offshore facilities take this opportunity before the end of the year to discuss the events that led to this explosion and to ensure their operations are safe. A safety stand down uses real world examples to illustrate the potentially tragic consequences that can result from the failure to consider safety.

In addition to the safety stand down, Director Salerno has requested that the American Petroleum Institute assist BSEE in improving safety by issuing standards for “hot work” that are consistent with the industry’s best practices. This would help to ensure that there is consistency across the offshore community while increasing communication within industry on this important topic.

 Read the full report here


November 05, 2013