Offshore workers have a tough job. No matter how many safety precautions are in place, accidents can happen at any time. For the family of Jerrel Hancock, 24, of Abbeville, Louisiana, the explosion that took his life while doing maintenance work on a Fieldwood Energy platform was earth-shattering. Hancock and three other contractors from Turnkey Cleaning Services were cleaning a heater treater, a machine that separates oil from water and other materials, when a pressure event caused an explosion on the Echo platform, killing Hancock and injuring the other three workers.
Echo Platform Previously Cited for Safety Violations by BSEE
An article from Fuel Fix states that the fatal explosion occurred almost six months after federal drilling regulators told Fieldwood that they had failed to maintain all equipment in a safe condition. BSEE, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, stopped short of ordering the facility or a component shut-in when it issued that noncompliance warning in June. Interestingly, the article continues to state that Turnkey Cleaning Services had no recorded accidents or lost time incidents in the past five years whereas what is now the Fieldwood facility has been cited on 38 separate occasions dating back to 1997. Four citations were issued in 2011, on in 2012, and one this June. All of them were issued before Fieldwood took over the facility from Apache Corp. Other Fieldwood Energy operations in the Gulf have also reported minor injuries this year. (1)
Fieldwood's Safety Violations Tied to Spending Cuts?
Fieldwood has also stated publicly that it is looking for ways to cut back on spending so it can put more money toward acquisitions. That statement, coupled with the multiple safety violations, accidents, and this tragic event, is enough to make one question the company's safety standards. If the Echo platform did not meet safety standards, why was it not brought up to code in the months since it became a Fieldwood property?
This accident adds a layer to the safety regulation debate that is ongoing within the oil and gas industry. Jim Noe of Hercules Offshore says having BSEE write "traffic tickets for trivial matters" the focus shifts away from a safety culture and "what really matters." (2) Others say the industry has an "accident problem," such as the founding director of the environmental group Louisiana Bucket Brigade. The founding director, Anne Rolfes, continued to say that "the industry puts workers in harm's way... these people are at the lowest rung you can get in the industry and they are the ones who are bearing the risk." (3) For new companies like Fieldwood that are acquiring properties from other companies, they bear the risk that these properties could come with unsafe or broken equipment. But it does not excuse allowing equipment or infrastructure in violation of safety standards to remain in place long after the property has been acquired. Allowing unsafe equipment and infrastructure to stay in place and in production creates a dangerous work environment. The contractors from Turnkey Cleaning Services were hired to work on that heater treater, and they didn't have any say in whether or not their work environment, the Echo platform in this instance, would be safe.
The energy industry has to watch its bottom line, but it also has to remember that its workers are the driving force behind its profits. For many workers, the minor safety infractions can cause career-ending injuries, and the major safety infractions can cause life-ending injuries. When something goes wrong on a platform, companies often spring into action to minimize their liability. The accident victims and the families of deceased offshore workers can take steps to protect their rights after an accident. The first step is to conduct an independent investigation into the accident so victims and families can quickly get answers to how and why the accident occurred. To get started, call 877.724.7800 or fill out a contact form.
(1) "Fatal Explosion Came During Maintenance Work." fuelfix. Hearst Newspapers. Nov 21, 2014. web. Nov 24, 2014. http://fuelfix.com/blog/2014/11/21/fatal-explosion-came-during-maintenance-work/
(2) "Feds Rap Offshore Contractors for Safety Violations." fuelfix. Hearst Newspapers. Mar 18, 2013. web. Nov 24, 2014.. http://fuelfix.com/blog/2013/03/18/feds-rap-offshore-contractors-for-safety-violations/
(3) "Fatal Explosion Came During Maintenance Work." fuelfix. Hearst Newspapers. Nov 21, 2014. web. Nov 24, 2014. http://fuelfix.com/blog/2014/11/21/fatal-explosion-came-during-maintenance-work/