west delta 32 platform fire

Body of Missing Rig Worker Found, Grand Isle Shipyard Says Torch Not to Blame for Incident

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November 18, 2012

West Delta 32 platform approximately 20 miles offshore Grand Isle, Louisiana. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

GRAND ISLE, La.–Divers searching the Gulf of Mexico for two workers missing after an explosion on an oil platform recovered the body of one Saturday night, as the U.S. Coast Guard stopped its search.

Mark Pregeant, chief executive of Grand Isle Shipyard Inc., said in an interview Saturday night that one body had been pulled from the Gulf but had not been identified. The other worker remains missing. Grand Isle Shipyard employed both workers.

The news marked the first confirmed fatality from the explosion and fire that broke out on an offshore oil platform Friday morning. Investigators and the companies involved began probing what caused the blast.

The workers were part of a crew performing construction work on a platform owned by Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations LLC that wasn’t producing oil at the time.

Grand Isle Shipyard, which employed 14 of the 22 people aboard at the time of the accident, said Saturday that four of its personnel were in critical but stable condition.

The explosion, about 20 miles offshore, injured at least 11 workers in addition to the dead man and the missing man. It also rattled residents here in Grand Isle, a town of about 1,300 people on a barrier island at the far southern tip of Louisiana.

Grand Isle, which draws much of its revenue from tourism, was severely affected in 2010 by the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig accident, which triggered the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. Some residents initially feared this week’s accident would be a small-scale repeat of that disaster, which fouled the beach with tar balls.

But Friday’s platform fire was extinguished quickly. Although the incident left a thin film of oil floating on the Gulf’s shallow waters, federal officials said it wasn’t expected to cause significant environmental damage.

Investigators took a helicopter to the scene of the accident Saturday, landing on the platform along with teams from Grand Isle Shipyard and Black Elk Energy.

Grand Isle’s chief executive, Mark Pregeant, rebutted reports that workers may have helped cause the explosion by using a torch to cut through a pipe, throwing off sparks that ignited containers holding oil residue.

The reports were mentioned Friday by Black Elk Energy Chief Executive John Hoffman, who said that if true, it would mean workers weren’t following the proper procedure.

“Initial reports that a welding torch was being used at the time of the incident or that an incorrect line was cut are completely inaccurate,” Mr. Pregeant said in a statement Saturday, adding that the cause was unknown.

Mr. Pregeant said in an interview that a torch had not been used, based on an inspection of the platform but declined to elaborate. The Coast Guard had been probing reports into how the pipe was cut, and an official said Saturday that he had no new information about the cause.

Black Elk Energy didn’t respond to requests for comment Saturday. In a statement on its website, the Houston-based company said it was working closely with federal and state agencies. “Our total focus is on the missing workers and the proper care and attention for the injured and their families,” the company said.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, the federal agency in charge of regulating offshore safety, said in a statement Saturday that it was probing the causes the explosion and would take “appropriate enforcement action.”

– Daniel Gilbert, (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company

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