Black Elk Energy West Delta 32 rig explosion – workers injured and killed

A fire at Black Elk Energy‘s West Delta 32 rig in the Gulf of Mexico on Friday killed one worker, another worker is missing and many others were burned and injured.
John Hoffman, CEO of Houston-based Black Elk Energy, said in an email Saturday evening that a contracted dive vessel had recovered the body of one missing worker and the search for a second worker remains underway. Two workers remain in critical condition at Baton Rouge General Hospital‘s Burn Center. On Friday, the day of the incident, a spokesperson with West Jefferson Medical Center, where injured workers were taken initially, said four workers had suffered second and third degree burns over a large portion of their bodies. The men were later transported to Baton Rouge General.
At a Saturday press conference, a hospital official said the four burned workers are from the Philippines, which has made notifying family a challenge. 11 workers in total were air-lifted to Louisiana for medical attention, and the remaining seven workers were treated by paramedics near the shore of Grand Isle, LA and then released. At a press conference at noon on Saturday, the U.S. Coast Guard said a total of 22 workers were on the West Delta 32 platform at the time of the explosion.
Hoffman said that the men working the rig, which produces oil and natural gas, are not employees of Black Elk Energy, but instead are contractors. A story posted to Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s web site identifies the contractor that employed the workers as Grand Isle Shipyard. Black Elk Energy’s home page includes a link to a status update on the incident. Grand Isle Shipyard is currently facing a lawsuit (unrelated to Friday’s explosion) from a group of former workers from The Philippines claiming they were forced to work in cramped condition for long hours for substandard pay: the lawsuit, filed in late 2011 in federal court in Louisiana, is pending.
What caused the fire? A KHOU news story states that at the time of the fire, workers were cutting a 75 foot length of 3″ diameter pipe that contained as much as 75 gallons of product, according to CEO Hoffman. This process calls for a cold cutting device, a tool that does not spark, however Hoffman confirmed a cutting torch was used instead, causing the product inside the pipe to ignite. The platform was not in production at the time of the fire and appears to be structurally sound, but the Coast Guard says there is a half-mile by 200-yard sheen coming from the platform.
Previous accidents involving Black Elk Energy: In August a crane was lowering two workers into a basket when there was an equipment failure, according to Federal records. The two workers in the basket fell into the Gulf, but were not seriously injured. In February 2011, a small fire broke out on a Black Elk Energy platform: a battery charger was blamed for that incident. In September 2011, Black Elk Energy paid a $307,000 fine for failure to do a leak test on a safety valve, and it took them 117 days to fix the problem once it was identified.

U.S. Coast Guard photo of the West Delta 32 rig

John Hoffman, Black Elk Energy CEO

Injured workers’ rights:  Depending on the facts and circumstances, persons injured at work may be entitled to recover damages from their employer and/or third parties responsible for the incident that injured them. Injured workers should seek competent legal advice as soon as possible to ensure their rights and protected, and absolutely should avoid signing any documents that may affect their legal rights. Contact Smith & Hassler.

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