U.S. board issues subpoena on offshore platform blast

HOUSTON Mon Nov 19, 2012 6:15pm EST

Commercial vessels spray water to extinguish a platform fire on board an offshore oil platform operated by Houston-based Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations LLC. 20 miles offshore of Grand Isle, Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico November 16, 2012 in this handout photo released by the U.S. Coast Guard. REUTERS/U.S. Coast Guard/Handout

Commercial vessels spray water to extinguish a platform fire on board an offshore oil platform operated by Houston-based Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations LLC. 20 miles offshore of Grand Isle, Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico November 16, 2012 in this handout photo released by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Credit: Reuters/U.S. Coast Guard/Handout

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HOUSTON (Reuters) - A U.S. industrial accident investigative board served Black Elk Energy with a subpoena on Monday, seeking information about last week's offshore Gulf of Mexico oil platform explosion that left one worker dead and another missing.

Spokeswoman Hillary Cohen said the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, which investigates chemical spills, refinery explosions and other industrial accidents, will decide whether to launch a probe into Friday's blast once Houston-based Black Elk responds to the subpoena.

The company has until November 30 to respond, Cohen said. The CSB has authority to subpoena witnesses, but not to issue fines or citations.

The U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), which regulates offshore oil and gas drilling and production, is investigating the blast.

BSEE said on Monday that its investigative team met Black Elk personnel at the platform to go over the agency's plan to collect evidence, interview witnesses and review safety procedures.

Once that information is analyzed, the agency can decide what enforcement plans are appropriate, BSEE Director James Watson said.

On Saturday one of two missing workers was found dead and the U.S. Coast Guard suspended search and rescue efforts. Privately held Black Elk said it expanded its search for the second missing worker.

On Monday, Black Elk did not respond to multiple queries about the status of the search. The Jefferson Parish Coroner's office, where the body of the deceased worker was taken on Saturday, said on Monday it had not received a second body related to the blast.

Both those workers and several others hurt in the blast, are Filipino. Ambassador Jose Cuisa Jr. of the Philippine Embassy in Washington went to Louisiana on Monday to attend to the deceased man's remains, monitor the search and help the families of those injured.

The explosion and fire occurred when workers were welding a pipe on the deck of West Delta Block 32 platform, which sits in 56 feet of water about 17 miles south of Grand Isle, Louisiana.

The company told the U.S. Coast Guard that up to 28 gallons of oil in the pipe may have spilled, causing a sheen around the platform. Oil and gas production had been shut down since mid-August, according to Black Elk.

Cohen said information the CSB is seeking includes use of combustible natural gas detectors, Black Elk's safety and environmental management systems and policies and prior safety violations or citations.

Of 22 workers on board the platform, the Coast by energy facilities. Guard said 11 were taken to hospitals and nine were evacuated to near

Grand Isle Shipyard Inc, a service and construction company in Louisiana, said 14 of its workers and subcontractors, including the man who died and the other still missing, were assigned to the Black Elk platform.

(Reporting By Kristen Hays; Editing by Chris Baltimore, David Gregorio and Andre Grenon)

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