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Working In These Times

Thursday, Apr 22, 2010, 10:37 am

Exploding Rig’s Operator Has History of Safety Violations

BY Lindsay Beyerstein

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Fire boats battle the fire on April after a massive explosion on the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon, off the coast of Louisiana. The rig's contractor, BP Exploration and Production, has a history of safety violations.   (Photo by U.S. Coast Guard via Getty Images)

Eleven oil workers are still missing after a massive explosion and fire late Tuesday night on an oil rig off the Louisiana coast in the Gulf of Mexico. The rig was under contract to BP Exploration and Production (BPEP).

Working In These Times has determined that BPEP has a history of safety violations, according to public records on file with the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the division of the federal Department of the Interior that oversees offshore drilling.

Penalties assessed to BPEP during the past decade include:

  • $41,000 for a "loss of well control." MMS found that BPEP "failed to verify employees were trained to competently perform the assigned well control duties."
  • $190,000 for an improperly installed fire diverter system. The lapse was discovered in the wake of a fire that damaged property and the environment.
  • $80,000 for bypassing relays for the Pressure Safety High/Low on four producing wells.
  • $70,000 for low pressure in the fire water system

The Tana Exploration Company, LLC was fined $190,000 after BPEP employees, working as contractors, bypassed the safety valves on a Tana rig. Investigators found that the rig failed to shut down in an emergency because the safety devices had been bypassed.

As a result, "[t]he pipeline experienced overpressure and the flange gasket ruptured allowing gas/condensate to escape," according to MMS records.

The Wall Street Journal reports that BPEP's parent company was fined $87 million for failing to make agreed upon safety upgrades to a Texas refinery after an explosion and fire that killed 15 people.

It is still unclear who was responsible for the April 20 explosion.

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Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (, a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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