Offshore platform explosion: 11 injured, 2 missing

Source: US Coast Guard
Source: US Coast Guard
Source: KLFY in Lafayette, LA
Source: KLFY in Lafayette, LA

GULF OF MEXICO (WAFB) - The U.S. Coast Guard in New Orleans confirms there was an offshore platform explosion in the Gulf of Mexico that happened around 9:15 a.m. Friday. It is believed to be off the coast of Grand Isle in Federal Waters. Capt. Ed Cubanski with the U.S. Coast Guard says contrary to previous reports there have been no confirmed deaths from the explosion.

The platform is a production facility. There were 22 people on the platform at the time of the explosion. Two people are reported missing, 11 were initially airlifted to local hospitals, and nine were uninjured during the explosion.

Officials say crews from other oil rigs were helping to evacuate the people on the platform, and hopefully the two missing people are with another crew. The search for them continues.

For anyone concerned about a family member who may have been on the oil platform, call 281-779-8459

A hospital spokesperson says two of the critically injured were airlifted to the Baton Rouge General-Mid City Burn Center from a hospital in Marrero, LA. Two are still en route to Baton Rouge from the hospital in Marrero, LA via ambulance. The hospital says the two that are already at the Baton Rouge hospital are in critical condition with major burns. There is no word on the other two victims.

The Coast Guard activated a "command center" in Houma, LA to investigate the incident. A cleanup crew been dispatched to handle any possible pollution. Capt. Cubanski says there is an oil sheen that is about one half mile by 200 yards.

A Coast Guard crew out of Morgan City, LA will help lead the investigation into the accident itself. They say it's still too early to get an exact pinpoint on how the accident will impact the environment.

John Hoffman, the CEO of Black Elk says "It's very tough. We're almost like family and when something like this happens, it tears at our hearts." Hoffman says their thoughts are with the victims and their families. "It's a horrible day but we are going to hold together.  First and foremost we have to take care of those who were involved."

The U.S. Coast Guard says the platform was "shut-in" meaning production had been stopped so crews could perform repairs.

Workers were using a torch to cut a 3-inch line that was 75-feet long when the explosion happened. There was about 28 gallons of product in that line. The fire is out and there is no oil believed to be leaking into the Gulf of Mexico. A Congressional source says the Gulf oil rig fire caused by an acetylene torch cutting an oil line.

An official said the platform in question is a shallow water platform located in West Delta Block 32 in the Gulf of Mexico, about 25 miles southeast of Grand Isle, south of New Iberia on the south-central Louisiana coast.

Plaquemines Port Authority was immediately notified by the Coast Guard and are on stand-by in Venice to support the Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard is on the scene with multiple boats and aircrafts. Three commercial vessels are also on scene.

ES&H clean-up has been dispatched to handle any possible pollution. They have set up their command center in Houma.

Black Elk Energy, a Houston-based company, has a platform in that area, but it is unknown if that company owns the one that had the explosion. Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations, LLC, announced in October that drilling and major rig work on the first of the 23 wells started in November.

The preliminary report says a worker was cutting a pipe that had oil in it and it ignited. The fire has been extinguished. The preliminary report also states an oil sheen can be seen in the water. Sources say the structure of the platform is intact with no structural damage from the explosion.

WWL-TV found several safety blemishes on Black Elk Energy's record.  In the past 4 years, there have been 74 reported minor oil incidents, two federally-investigated accidents, and last September, the company was fined $307,000 for a gas leak on a platform.

Professor Eric Smith of Tulane's Energy Institute says the platform that caught fire Friday has changed hands several times in recent years and that, combined with its advanced age, can lead operators to compromise on safety.

"As you get older platforms, more marginal production, in new company hands...people start worrying a lot more about the bottom line," said Smith.

The CEO of Black Elk, the owner of the platform, once worked for BP Oil. He started his own company in 2007.

Thursday, BP agreed to pay $4.5 billion in a settlement to the U.S. Government for the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill. The Federal Government says much of that money will be used to restore the environment in the Gulf Coast Region.

About Black Elk Energy

Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations, LLC is an independent oil and gas company headquartered in Houston, Texas.

Copyright 2012 WAFB. All rights reserved.