Photo: Illustration. Image courtesy of Fieldwood Energy

Two offshore workers charged for allowing Gulf of Mexico oil spills

Two Fieldwood Energy workers may be facing jail time after being indicted for criminal conduct for allegedly allowing crude oil spills from Gulf of Mexico platforms to avoid shutdowns.

The two men were indicted on Tuesday for oil spills in 2015 and 2018, according to statements by the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

In a statement released last Friday, Fieldwood Energy said that its top priority is to operate facilities in a safe manner that protects the health of everyone who works on platforms and that protects the environment.

“Fieldwood understands that the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana has issued indictments against two Fieldwood employees regarding alleged misconduct that occurred several years ago at three platforms”, the company said.

It is worth noting that Fieldwood was not mentioned by name or charged in the indictment.

The company deferred any questions related to these events to independent counsel for these employees.

According to the indictment, Fieldwood employee Patrick Huse, of Perkinston, Mississippi, engaged in criminal conduct on an oil platform Main Pass 310A (MP-310A).

In July 2015, workers on MP-310A noticed a sheen on the surface of the water surrounding the platform. The sheen meant that the platform was discharging oil or other hazardous substances into the Gulf of Mexico.

The workers alerted Huse, who was a Person-In-Charge (PIC) on the platform, telling him that they believed the sheen was the result of sand buildup in filtration equipment on MP-310A.

Rather than shutting-in the platform to repair or replace the filtration equipment, Huse ordered certain wells closed but otherwise kept the platform operating. This caused further sheening.

The sheening continued for another four days until a worker finally activated an emergency shutdown device to stop the sheening. Huse then instructed the workers to lie to federal regulators about the reason for the emergency shutdown.

Huse is charged with negligently discharging oil and other hazardous substances from MP-310A into the Gulf of Mexico, with failure to immediately report the discharge to the appropriate federal agency, and also with making false statements in inspection logs.

According to another indictment, Fieldwood area foreman Brandon Wall, of Louisiana, engaged in criminal conduct on an oil platform known as Grand Isle 43AA (GI-43AA), one of Fieldwood’s most prosperous platforms.

The GI-43AA experienced sand buildup problems with its filtration systems. Wall instructed operators to keep the platform “flowing” instead of shutting it in to repair or replace the filtration systems.

Wall also told the operators to bypass the platform’s safety systems, which would have automatically shut-in the platform. Operators on GI-43AA were aware that putting safety systems in bypass made the platform less safe and increased the risk of a pollution event.

In January 2018, GI-43AA discharged oil and other hazardous substances into the Gulf of Mexico. Eventually, Wall informed the appropriate federal agency about the discharge. When the regulators arrived at GI-43AA, they saw a sheen emanating from GI-43AA, indicating that the platform had discharged oil and other hazardous substances.

Wall is charged with rendering safety systems inaccurate and with negligently discharging oil and other hazardous substances into the Gulf of Mexico.

If convicted, both men face fines and imprisonment from one to ten years.