Interior orders oil firm to improve safety compliance following rig explosion

The Interior Department reprimanded an oil firm for repeatedly violating safety rules following a Gulf of Mexico explosion that left one worker dead and another missing.

Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) told Black Elk Energy that its offshore operations “must be improved immediately,” citing the firm’s previous safety violations in the Gulf of Mexico in its letter.

“Black Elk has repeatedly failed to operate in a manner that is consistent with federal regulations. BSEE has taken a number of enforcement actions, including issuing numerous Incidents of Non Compliance (INC’s), levying civil penalties and calling in the company’s senior leadership to review their performance and the ramifications of failing to improve,” BSEE Director James Watson said in a Wednesday statement.

The company owns the oil production platform about 18 miles southeast of Grand Isle, La., that exploded Friday. Black Elk has called off its search for the missing worker, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.

BSEE ordered Black Elk to stop “hot work” at its facilities until it gains agency permission and installs a safety manager at each location.

Hot work refers to any activities that could start a fire. Interior is investigating whether a torch sparked the Friday explosion, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Black Elk also must submit a performance improvement plan detailing how it will comply with federal regulations by Dec. 15.

If Black Elk fails to meet BSEE’s directives, the firm could lose its offshore operator licenses, the letter said.