An eight-month investigation has concluded that a fatal explosion and fire during a construction project last November on a Gulf of Mexico (GOM) oil production platform operated by Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations LLC occurred after contractors failed to follow standard safety practices.

ABSG Consulting found that while production was shut in, workers welded on piping that was connected to a tank containing crude oil and flammable oil vapors without following Black Elk Energy’s safety practices. The platform is at West Delta 32 Block in the GOM, 17 miles south east of Grand Isle, LA.

The Nov. 16, 2012 incident killed three workers and injured several others (see Daily GPI, Nov. 19, 2012). In late November top Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee called on Houston-based Black Elk Energy to provide them with answers (see Daily GPI, Nov. 27, 2012). ABSG was retained by Black Elk Energy, and it coordinated its investigation with the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE).

“The victims of this tragic accident last November are always in our thoughts and prayers,” said Black Elk CEO John Hoffman. “We owe it to them and their families to understand how this accident happened. With this ABSG report, I am confident we now know the causes of this tragedy and how to prevent such an accident from ever happening again.”

The workers involved in the incident were from the Philippines. “Filipino offshore oil workers have a deserved reputation for competence and professionalism,” Hoffman said. “A serious issue in this case was Grand Isle’s apparent failure to provide proper safety training and appropriate supervision.”

ABSG concluded that on the day of the incident, workers were welding a flange on open piping leading to an oil tank that contained flammable vapors. The piping leading to the tank had not been isolated and made safe for welding activities as required by Black Elk Energy safe work practices. Flammable vapors in the piping ignited and within seconds reached the first oil tank and then two connected tanks.

Black Elk Energy contracted with Grand Isle Shipyard to perform the construction work. Although Grand Isle committed in its contract to not use subcontractors on Black Elk Energy projects, all of the workers performing the welding involved in the incident were employed by DNR Offshore and Crewing Services, a subcontractor of Grand Isle.

ABSG determined that Grand Isle Shipyard’s use of DNR Offshore without notifying Black Elk Energy was one of several causes of the incident. ABSG also determined that Grand Isle Shipyard and DNR Offshore employees failed to adequately follow safe work practices for performing welding and failed to stop work when unsafe conditions existed.

Grand Isle Shipyard had no comment on the investigation’s findings when contacted by NGI.

The ABSG report is at