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The West Delta 32 platform. Image courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

Three firms and three individuals were charged by the U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday for their involvement in the fatal 2012 West Delta 32 platform accident in the Gulf of Mexico.

The DOJ has charged Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations and Grand Isle Shipyards with three counts of involuntary manslaughter, eight counts of failing to follow proper safety practices under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) and one count of violating the Clean Water Act. 

Wood Group PSN, Don Moss, 46 of Texas, Curtis Dantin, 50 of Louisiana, and Christopher Srubar, 40 of Louisiana, were each charged with felony violations of OCSLA and the Clean Water Act.

The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and federal regulations govern welding and activities that generate heat or sparks, known as “hot work,” on oil production platforms in U.S. waters.

According to the indictment, the defendants were involved in different capacities while construction work was being done of the West Delta 32 platform when it caught fire in November 2012.

The accident killed three workers, injured several others and caused three oil tanks to separate at their bases and release their contents onto the platform.

The spill also created an oil sheen measuring about one half-mile by 200 yards in the Gulf of Mexico caused by the discharge of some of the hydrocarbons in each of the tanks that were blown off of the platform.

A 2013 report by the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement identified a number of safety failures preceding the accident including no hazard identification, conducting “hot work” without taking required safety precautions, failure to isolate hydrocarbons inside an oil tank, ineffective communication among contractors and a climate where workers feared retaliation if they raised safety concerns.

Weeks after the accident, the BSEE took action to require Black Elk to improve its safety performance, under threat of disqualification from operations on the Outer Continental Shelf.

Under the close review of BSEE’s Gulf of Mexico Region, the company made safety improvements and implemented changes to its oversight processes within a year of the incident, the BSEE report said.

An investigation commissioned by Black Elk 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.”

“Workers lives can depend on their employer’s faithfulness to the law, not least of all those working in oil and gas production where safety must be a paramount concern,” Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division said.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Interior Office of Inspector General and EPA’s Criminal Investigations Division.

The case is being prosecuted by Emily Greenfield of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana and by Kenneth E. Nelson of the Environmental Crimes Section of the Department of Justice.