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CWA Crimebox

Environmental Crimes:  Fiscal Year 2017; Case ID# CR_2979 (Louisiana)
The following summarizes one of sixty-six Clean Water Act Prosecutions in Louisiana since 1990

Deadly explosion and oil spill follows years of missed safety inspections
The defendant in this case is a company contracted for operating offshore oil production facilities in the Gulf of Mexico. The company was charged with falsifying safety inspection reports from 2011 to 2014. The lack of diligence in safety inspections, maintenance, supervision and safe work permitting led directly to an explosion which killed three workers and seriously injured many more. The damage caused by the explosion caused oil to spill from the platform into the Gulf.

Federal district court was presented with a plea agreement from the defendant, indicating the company lacked capacity to carry out all of the inspection and maintenance work it had contracted and scheduled. The corporate defendant admitted to 87 incidents where vital safety work was not performed, where employees at every station falsely reported the work completed as per federal and state regulations.

The Clean Water Act charge and conviction came about as a result of an explosion on an oil rig located in area West Delta 32 in the Gulf of Mexico. According to court documents, the facility owner had contracted the defendant to operate the facility. During a period of construction in November 2012, the defendant was responsible for issuing hot permits for welding.

US EPA: Hot work means work involving electric or gas welding, cutting, brazing, or similar flame or spark-producing operations (§68.3). Facilities that perform hot work operations conducted on or near a covered process shall issue a hot work permit, and it must be kept on file until hot work operations are completed. The permit shall document that the fire prevention and protection requirements in 29 CFR §1910.252(a) have been implemented prior to beginning the hot work operations, indicate the date(s) authorized for hot work, and identify the object on which hot work is to be performed (§68.85).

The defendant admitted in plea agreement that staff was negligent in performing the required safety checks and safety communication among all workers. The supervisor in charge of the facility had stopped conducting daily safety meetings with all personnel and had stopped issuing hot work permits, delegating to less experienced staff. On Nov. 16, 2012, workers were assigned to perform hot welding in three different parts of the rig, where piping and equipment connected to oil tanks had not been made safe for exposure to welding arc and sparks.

Vapors escaping from a wet oil tank ignited and set off a series of explosions which blasted two of three oil tanks into the Gulf. A third tank was blown off its foundation, spilling oil into the Gulf and damaging the rig's crane. Oil falling onto a lower deck ignited and caused the death and injury of construction workers.

Co-defendants in this case face manslaughter charges. The supervisors in charge face criminal charges under the Clean Water Act for their roles in the oil spill. One co-defendant faces eight felony counts under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.
Federal fine: $8,800,000 Community Service: $700,000;

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