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One Worker Killed, Another Feared Dead in Gulf Coast Oil Rig Explosion

On Nov. 16, with the ink not yet dry on BP’s $4.5 billion settlement for its 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion, an emergency erupted on another platform in the Gulf of Mexico. A fire ignited on a Black Elk Energy oil rig, leaving one worker confirmed dead while another remains missing.

One worker was killed and a second worker is missing and presumed dead after a fire ignited on a Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations LLC oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico on Nov. 16.

Black Elk Energy’s platform is located about 17 miles southeast of Grand Isle, La., in the Gulf of Mexico. Of the 22 workers who were on the platform at the time of the incident, 11 evacuated safely while nine were injured and two were missing, according to Black Elk Energy. The body of one of the missing workers was recovered on Nov. 17; the other worker is missing and presumed to be the second fatality.

The platform had been shut in since mid-August and was not in operation at the time of the fire, which was extinguished within an hour. According to visual reports that were confirmed by the U.S. Coast Guard, there is no visible oil sheen in the vicinity of the platform.

“This is a heartbreaking event,” said Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations CEO John Hoffman. “Our total focus at this moment is to find the missing workers and care for the injured. We will not let anything stand in the way of these priorities.”  

As one worker remained missing through the weekend, Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations, an independent oil and gas company headquartered in Houston, pledged to step up search efforts.

“Black Elk is expanding and enhancing its efforts to locate a worker who is still missing,” the company said in a Nov. 18 statement. “We remain focused on the victims and their families, including those injured in the incident. An official investigation has begun to examine the facts surrounding this incident, and we will continue to cooperate with all authorities as this process develops.”

Wake-Up Call?

This incident occurred only a day after BP reached a $4.5 billion settlement for its own 2010 catastrophic oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. According to the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH), this latest incident should be a wake-up call for an industry that has demonstrated a culture valuing production over safety.

“We call on the leaders of the oil and gas industry to take all necessary measures to ensure that workers are encouraged to report safety hazards, and that no one is disciplined for expressing their concerns about safety on the job,” said Tom O’Connor, executive director of COSH. “Furthermore, U.S. regulators should adopt the approach taken by the U.K. and Norway, in which oil producers are required to prepare detailed analyses and plans prior to obtaining drilling permits.”

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