BSEE issues stern letter to Black Elk

NEW ORLEANS – The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement recently notified Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations that the company must take immediate steps to improve its safety performance on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). The specific actions were detailed in a letter to the company that follows a number of enforcement actions taken by the bureau over the past two years related to violations of federal regulations, including incidents resulting in injuries and pollution.

The action precedes any potential enforcement actions that may be deemed appropriate following the conclusion of the bureau’s investigation into the Nov. 16 explosion and fire aboard the West Delta 32 platform.

“Black Elk has repeatedly failed to operate in a manner that is consistent with federal regulations,” said BSEE Director James A. Watson, in a statement. “BSEE has taken a number of enforcement actions, including issuing numerous Incidents of Non Compliance (INCs), levying civil penalties and calling in the company’s senior leadership to review their performance and the ramifications of failing to improve. This is an appropriate and necessary step as we continue to investigate the explosion and fire that resulted in the tragic loss of life and injuries last week.”

By Dec. 15, Black Elk must submit a performance improvement plan that details the steps it will take to ensure compliance in its operations, according to a BSEE press release. If the company does not demonstrate improved performance, it will face further enforcement actions, which can include potential revocation of its designation as an operator on all its facilities on the OCS.

BSEE has also given Black Elk the following corrective actions that must be adhered to immediately:

1.    Keep all facilities that currently are in a shut-in status in such status until it provides BSEE with documentation of the corrective actions taken to safely return each facility into operational status to BSEE’s satisfaction. 

2.    Notify the appropriate District Office at least 48 hours prior to returning these facilities to production to allow for the proper BSEE inspection.

3.    Immediately cease hot work on its facilities until it demonstrates to BSEE’s satisfaction that steps have been taken, and a safety manager is in place whose responsibility it will be to improve hazard identification, training, and oversight for such operations. 

4.    Develop a performance improvement plan that at a minimum:

    a.    Provides documentation to BSEE that Black Elk has complied with the requirements of 30 CFR Subpart S;

    b.    Initiates an independent third-party audit of Black Elk’s Safety and Environmental Management Systems (SEMS) program in accordance with 30 CFR § 250.1925(a). Such audits must begin no later than Jan. 31, 2013; and

    c.    Integrates BSEE auditors into the third-party audit team.

5.    Submit the plan and scope of the audit(s) referenced in paragraph 4 above for approval by BSEE no later than Dec. 15, 2012.

6.    Within 30 days, provide an analysis of all INCs issued to Black Elk since 2010 and document patterns and actions taken by Black Elk to change processes or procedures to prevent similar incidents on other facilities.

The action taken by BSEE today follows numerous safety incidents involving Black Elk facilities. These incidents include the fire and explosion that occurred last Friday at West Delta 32, the issuance of 45 INCs in October 2012 for violations on nine facilities in the South Marsh Island area in the Gulf of Mexico and an October 2011 incident where it was discovered that Black Elk operations had used an acid-based chemical for treating a well that resulted in the hospitalization of six workers.


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