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Feds to investigate after two killed, one injured on Shell’s Gulf of Mexico Auger platform

Image courtesy of Shell Oil

Federal authorities have launched an investigation after two people were killed and another injured in an accident on Shell Oil’s Auger Tension Leg Platform in the Gulf of Mexico.

The accident occurred around 10 a.m. on Sunday at the platform, which is located in the Gulf of Mexico about 214 miles southwest of New Orleans.

It is the third fatal accident on an offshore oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico in just over a month, according to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, part of the Department of the Interior, which just last month set up investigation panels to look into the previous two.

The U.S. Coast Guard’s New Orleans Investigations Unit has sent officers from its New Orleans station to conduct an investigation on the platform.

“At about 6:30 (Monday) morning, Coast Guard sent over a team of inspectors and investigators from New Orleans to the platform to begin the investigation into the cause of the incident and inspect equipment,” Coast Guard spokesman Travis Magee said. BSEE will be joining the investigation.

“Shell is fully cooperating with federal authorities,” Babski said via email.

One of the fatally injured on Sunday was a Shell employee and the other was a contractor with Danos, Shell said. The injured person was a Shell employee and was treated at a nearby hospital and released.

“Shell representatives have informed family members of those involved and are providing support,” Babski’s said.

Shell said it would not release the names of the deceased “out of respect to the families impacted and their privacy.”

BSEE last month set up investigation panels into two fatal incidents that occurred at the end of May and early June on offshore oil platforms.

One occurred on May 29th on the Eugene Island Block 331, Platform “B”, which is located about 170 miles southwest of New Orleans and operated by Renaissance Offshore.

The other occurred just a few days later, on June 1st, at the Green Canyon Block 205, Platform “A”, located about 150 miles southwest of New Orleans and operated by Chevron Corporation.

“A night-time production operator on a fixed facility was identified as missing from the platform during morning rounds,” BSEE reported about the Eugene Island incident. “Personnel onboard noticed a section of grating displaced in the upright position with the missing person’s hardhat and clipboard next to the grating in the wellbay deck.”

BSEE said that there had been a “Danger” sign posted but that no hard barricade had been erected.

The Coast Guard searched for the 54-year-old man who fell through the Eugene Island grating into the sea but was unable to locate him and suspended the search after 56 hours.

The second incident also occurred late at night, BSEE reported.

“Two employees went to replace the well access hatch cover over the well on the drill deck,” the agency’s preliminary report found. “Each of the two employees inadvertently picked up the wrong hatch cover. Each employee grabbed one handle of the cover, which was the same color as the deck and had no well identifying information on it. This action unknowingly created an open hole; and as the employees moved the hatch, one of the employees stepped and fell through the hole to the deck below – approximately 90 feet.”

The string of recent accidents come as several environmental groups last month filed a lawsuit against the government alleging that a proposed Trump administration relaxation of offshore safety regulations could have dire consequences.

The Auger platform was the first Gulf of Mexico tension leg platform, a design whereby the production deck floats on huge pontoons and is attached to the sea floor by long wire tendons rather than a fixed structure. In the mid-1990s, that allowed Shell and other oil companies to venture out beyond the continental shelf to search for oil.

Auger sits above 2,800 feet of water, while the deepest Gulf of Mexico platform of that type currently is Shell’s Perdido, which operates in 8,000 feet of water.

“In the over forty years that Shell has operated in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico we have strived, above all, to ensure our people go home safely to their loved ones,” a Shell statement said. “It’s devastating when they do not. We deeply regret this loss of life within our Shell family and community.”

The company said there was no impact to the environment and the oil platform “is stable and producing.”

Auger was scheduled to be decommissioned but its life was extended to mid-century in 2010 after a huge oil find hidden behind a column of salt at a depth of 30,000 feet. The Cardamom field has a maximum capacity of 110,000 barrels per day, making it one of Shell’s largest Gulf of Mexico oilfields.

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