What does it take to get booted from the Gulf?

(AFP)

Wednesday’s column, available on houstonchronicle.com:

They didn’t actually use the words “double secret probation.”

I checked.

But the most recent warning that the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement sent to Houston’s Black Elk Energy raises the question of whether Dean Wormer from “Animal House” has come out of  retirement to oversee safety in the Gulf of Mexico.

Black Elk’s operations were cited 315 times in the past two years for rules violations and risky procedures, yet that wasn’t enough to keep the company from operating there.

On Nov. 16, an explosion rocked Black Elk’s platform about 18 miles off the Louisiana coast. Two workers died, one is still missing, and others are critically injured.

“Black Elk has repeatedly failed to operate in a manner that is consistent with federal regulations,” bureau director James Watson said a few days after the accident.

Clearly, as Wormer once declared, it’s time for someone to put their foot down, but the bureau’s response is more of a toe tap.

In a Nov. 21 letter it gave the company until Dec. 15 to develop a plan for boosting the safety aboard its 98 platforms in the Gulf.

Through all those previous 315 violations, the bureau never demanded such a plan. Just last month, the bureau found that Black Elk “showed a disregard for the safety of personnel” after a platform accident that sent six workers to the hospital.

Yet it took, once again, the loss of life for safety to become a priority. Even then, the response is to come up with a plan that should have been in place all along.

The post-Deepwater Horizon safety culture in the Gulf is looking disturbingly similar to the pre-Deepwater Horizon safety culture in the Gulf.

Read more here.