Feds probe fatal offshore blast

WASHINGTON — Federal investigators are on the scene of a oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico that exploded on Thursday, killing one person and injuring three others.

The blast happened around 3 p.m. Thursday at a platform operated by Houston-based Fieldwood Energy in shallow waters about 12 miles off the Louisiana coast.

The fatal explosion came nearly six months after federal drilling regulators warned the facility that it had failed to maintain all equipment in a safe condition so as to ensure the protection of the lease and associated facilities.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement could not immediately say what triggered the warning, though it could have been tied to a single piece of equipment among hundreds of devices at the site. Notably, the agency stopped short of ordering the facility or a component shut in when it issued that noncompliance warning on June 3 or during a May 22 inspection that prompted the citation.

Offshore drilling regulators with the safety bureau flew to the site Friday morning. The agency will probe what sparked the explosion at the platform, which was not producing oil or gas at the time.

Fieldwood Energy officials said they were working with emergency personnel and would provide more details Friday.

“This was an isolated incident that has been fully contained,” the company said in a statement. “The facility was not damaged and there was no pollution that resulted from the incident.”

The safety bureau stressed that “facility damage was limited to the explosion area.”

The injured workers at the site were all contractors at Fieldwood’s Echo Platform. Fieldwood officials would not identify the name of the contractor at the facility, nor describe the work underway when the blast.

Fieldwood said that in addition to the death, a second contractor’s employee was seriously injured. Two other workers were apparently injured but then released after being treated at a medical facility onshore.

The facility is located in about 220 feet of water in the West Delta area of the Gulf of Mexico, in block 105. Houston-based Apache Corp., drilled three wells there in 2001, according to federal government records.

Fieldwood took over as operator of the facility in July, the records show.

Fieldwood is a Houston-based portfolio company of the New York private equity firm Riverstone Holdings. According to Fieldwood’s website, the company focuses on acquiring and developing conventional oil and gas assets in North America, including in the Gulf of Mexico.

Last year, Fieldwood bought $3.75 billion in shallow Gulf assets from Apache Corp.

And earlier this year, the firm plunked down $750 million in cash for SandRidge Energy’s Gulf Coast and Gulf of Mexico unit, a deal that gave it an additional 150 blocks of leased Gulf territory.

Federal officials have cited the facility for not complying with offshore oil regulations on 38 separate occasions dating back to 1997, though many — 18 — were during drilling activity in 2001. Four citations were issued in 2011, one in 2012 and one this June.

Other Fieldwood Energy operations in the Gulf have had minor injuries this year.

For instance, one injury was reported at a Fieldwood facility in July, when Hercules Offshore was the contractor on site. According to a safety bureau accident investigation report, a worker suffered a broken finger while using an electronic jack to maneuver a pallet of chemicals and a switch became stuck in the reverse position.

In a separate June incident documented by the safety bureau, a contractor at another Fieldwood Energy facility was injured when he missed a step on a stairway from the heliport and a 50-pound bag landed on his hip, breaking it.