* Black Elk must have safety improvement plan by Dec. 15
* US regulator cites history of "troubling safety incidents"
* Company says it will comply with agency orders
By Chris Baltimore
HOUSTON, Nov 21 A U.S. regulator on Wednesday
ordered Black Elk Energy to take immediate steps to
improve safety at its offshore platforms, after last week's
deadly rig explosion off the Louisiana coast killed one worker
and left another missing.
"Black Elk has repeatedly failed to operate in a manner that
is consistent with federal regulations," James Watson, diretor
of the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement
(BSEE), said in a statement.
In a letter, the offshore regulator said Houston-based Black
Elk's performance "must be improved immediately," and gave it
until Dec. 15 to submit a plan.
The Nov. 16 explosion and fire occurred when workers were
welding a pipe on the deck of West Delta Block 32 platform,
which sits in 56 feet (17 meters) of water about 17 miles (27
km) south of Grand Isle, Louisiana. The incident evoked memories
of the deadly 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed 11
people and triggered the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
Black Elk Chief Executive John Hoffman said in a statement
that the company has received the letter and "We will be in full
cooperation with all agencies."
The Black Elk explosion did not unleash a major oil spill --
the company told the U.S. Coast Guard that up to 28 gallons of
oil in the pipe may have spilled. Oil and gas production at the
rig had been shut down since mid-August.
The BSEE's letter cited "troubling safety incidents" at
Black Elk, which operates 98 production platforms in the Gulf of
Mexico. The agency has logged 156 non-compliance issues in 2012,
up from 99 in 2011 and 60 in 2010, according to agency data.
Black Elk has committed "a number of significant safety
violations that demonstrate a disregard for the safety of
personnel," BSEE's letter said.
Those include an Oct. 2011 incident where use of an
acid-based chemical hospitalized six rig workers at its High
Island 571A well off the Texas coast.