Government often seems to move with the speed of an iceberg, but, as the crew of the Titanic found out, when it does move it is a force to be reckoned with. In the case of offshore oil and gas, it was clear that the government would be very tough on violations after the 2010 Macondo incident. Five years later, industry can see what a “get tough” approach can look like. On Thursday, the Justice Department and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) took action on two offshore incidents.
In 2012, three workers on a Black Elk Energy platform were killed, others were injured and there was an oil spill after an explosion. Through a failure in communications, workers had attempted to weld on pipes that had not been purged of gas. On Thursday, the Justice Department indicted Black Elk, two of its service companies and three individuals for the incident. The three individuals worked for the contractor companies, not Black Elk. The charges include involuntary manslaughter, failure to follow safety practices and Clean Water Act violations. You can read the indictment announcement here.
Thursday also brought a settlement in a Clean Water Act investigation of oil company, ATP. The company agreed to pay some $41 million in fines for the 2012 incident in which the Justice Department says: “A BSEE inspection of the ATP Innovator in March 2012 revealed alleged unlawful discharges of oil and a piping configuration that routed an unpermitted dispersant – a chemical mixture to break up oil – into the facility’s wastewater discharge pipe to mask excess oil being discharged into the ocean.” You can read about that settlement here. ATP had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2012. It is unclear how this settlement relates to the bankruptcy.
So, one day. Two incidents. Six indictments. $41 million in fines. Anyone doubt the government is serious about taking action on violations?