Black Elk launches probe of fatal platform fire

Black Elk Energy is conducting an internal investigation into what caused an explosion on one of its Gulf of Mexico oil platforms last month, killing three workers and inuring others.

But the Houston-based company isn’t the only one looking into the fatal accident.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement that regulates offshore energy development is probing the Nov. 16 incident, and while the Chemical Safety Board hasn’t yet decided whether to launch a formal inquiry, it has subpoenaed documents from Black Elk and Grand Isle Shipyards, one of the contractors working on the site at the time of the explosion. Two House committees also have asked the firms to brief congressional staff.

Black Elk said in a statement that it has hired ABS Consulting to help determine what caused the explosion.

According to a Black Elk statement, the incident occurred when workers were engaged in a construction project on the platform. CEO John Hoffman previously said workers may have used a torch to cut a water line, igniting flammable vapors or oil in the pipe and subsequently triggering an explosion in connected oil tanks. Grand Isle has rejected that scenario.

The platform, which was used for pumping oil to the surface and not for drilling new wells, had been shut-in since August. Although an oil sheen was observed nearby after the incident, Black Elk said in a statement that less than one barrel spilled. Another 480 barrels were lost in the fire, according to preliminary estimates of the contents of the tanks the caught fire, according to numbers from Black Elk and the safety bureau.