Democrats press Grand Isle Shipyards for info on fatal production platform fire

Leading House Democrats are broadening their probe into what caused a fatal offshore production platform fire by scrutinizing the contractor working on the facility when it ignited last month.

Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Ed Markey, D-Mass., among other lawmakers, summoned Grand Isle Shipyard’s owner to Capitol Hill to provide details about the accident that killed three of the company’s workers and injured others. No one from Houston-based Black Elk Energy — the company that owns the platform 18 miles from Louisiana’s coast — was on the facility when it exploded.

Black Elk CEO John Hoffman has said the explosion occurred during maintenance tasks at the site, when workers were cutting a water line. Hoffman has said workers may have used a cutting torch instead of a saw, igniting flammable vapors in the line and subsequently triggering an explosion in connected oil tanks.

In a letter to Grand Isle Shipyard owner Mark Pregeant, the Democrats noted that the company “has a history of accidents.”

Four years ago, Grand Isle was hit with a $7,000 fine after two of its workers died inhaling hydrogen sulfide gas while one cleaned a tank on a utility ship.

“In order to better understand your company’s role in the recent Black Elk rig explosion, we ask that you provide our staff with a briefing on your understanding of the reasons for the explosion and the extent to which they may involve work done by Grand Isle Shipyard workers,” the lawmakers said in the letter to Tregeant. “We also ask that you provide us with a briefing on your company’s track record on safety, including a description of any prior accidents and any enforcement actions taken by federal or state officials against you or your company.”

The same group of lawmakers, which also included Bobby Rush, D-Ill., Rush Holt, D-N.J., and Diana DeGette, D-Colo., separately has asked Black Elk’s Hoffman for a similar briefing.

Several other inquiries into the blast are still ongoing.

Offshore energy regulators at the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement are investigating the incident and have warned Black Elk that without safety improvements it could be barred from working offshore. The agency issued more than 300 “incidents of non compliance” for violations at Black Elk facilities in the past two years.

And while the Chemical Safety Board has not launched a formal probe, it has subpoenaed records that could shed light on the accident from Black Elk Energy and Grand Isle Shipyard.