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Time for real deterrents

On Nov. 16, an explosion and fire rocked a Gulf of Mexico oil platform operated by Black Elk Energy. Three workers were killed, and more were injured.

In retrospect, the tragedy seems a long time coming.

After the explosion, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement revealed Black Elk’s troubled safety history: In the past two years, the safety bureau had cited the company 315 times for rules violations and risky procedures.

Twelve times, the agency ordered Black Elk to shut down facilities because those violations were life-threatening.

In one case, an inspection found a gas leak on an oil platform. But Black Elk al­lowed the gas to continue leaking for 117 days.

We repeat: A gas leak. On an oil platform, where explosions and fires spell disaster. For 117 days.

As the Houston Chronicle pointed out this past week, even the federal government’s purported post-explosion crackdown amounts to a slap on the corporate wrist. In a Nov. 21 letter, the bureau demanded that Black Elk develop a plan to improve the safety of the 198 platforms it operates in the Gulf.

It took 315 violations, an explosion and multiple deaths before the regulators required the company to improve its safety plan?

What, we wonder, would it take to get a bad operator banned from the Gulf?

To date, Black Elk’s biggest punishment has been a $307,500 fine related to that gas-leak incident. But by oil company standards, that’s puny — less a deterrent than a cost of doing business.

Did our regulators learn nothing from Deepwater Horizon?

For the sake of workers’ lives, the Gulf of Mexico and the profitability of the rule-abiding oil companies that drill there, bad actors can’t be allowed to operate with impunity.

We can’t tolerate accidents waiting to happen.

- Houston Chronicle 


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