On April 6, 2016, U.S. District Judge Ivan L.R. Lemelle sentenced Energy Resource Technology GOM, LLC (“ERT”), a Dallas-based oil and gas exploration and production company, to three years of probation and ordered the company to pay a $4 million fine and $200,000 community service payment for the company’s violations of offshore safety and environmental regulations.
According to the U.S. District Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana, ERT pled guilty to two felony counts of violating the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and two felony counts of violating the Clean Water Act and as a result, will be required to comply with a strict Safety and Environmental Compliance Plan for the next three years.
The Violations – “Hot Work” and Blowout Preventers
ERT pled guilty to knowingly and willfully failing to comply with regulations for hot work on its offshore production platform Ship Shoal 225. Federal law mandates that welding or “hot work” on offshore platforms shall not take place within 10 feet of a well bay unless production is shut-in. ERT contractors working on Ship Shoal 225 violated these provisions, thereby creating serious safety hazards and endangering workers’ lives.
Federal law further mandates that blowout preventers must be pressure tested at regular intervals and that the entire system must pass pressure tests prior to conducting normal operations. The results of the pressure testing, including any problems or irregularities observed during the testing and the actions taken to remedy the problems, must be recorded. The blowout preventer test record and pressure chart must be signed and dated by the onsite representative as correct. The blowout preventer pressure chart and operations log are required to be maintained on the platform and available for inspection by BSEE. However, ERT failed to conduct the required blowout preventer inspections and disregarded reporting requirements.
The Violations – Clean Water Act
ERT also pled guilty to polluting the Gulf of Mexico by manipulating overboard water samples, failing to take necessary precautions against unlawful discharges into the Gulf, and other violations of offshore safety and environmental regulations. Operators used coffee filters or other similar means to filter samples to ensure that ERT would not be found to be in violation of environmental regulations and ultimately, its work permit. Although the Discharge Monitoring Reports showed that ERT’s platforms were not discharging oil in violation of the permit, an internal investigation by ERT revealed that multiple platforms were shown to be in violation of the monthly discharge allowances.
Additionally, on June 9, 2015, two contract operators on the Vermilion 195A failed to take any precaution against a discharge of pollutants when they began bleeding down the pressure from the production casing. The contract operators attached a hose to the valve from which the casing pressure was to be released and put the end of the hose at the edge of the platform, allowing well bore fluid mixed with hydrocarbons to shoot out over the Gulf of Mexico falling into the water below in violation of the Clean Water Act.
ERT pled guilty to two felony counts of violating the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and two felony counts of violating the Clean Water Act. In addition to probation and healthy fines, ERT will be required to comply with a comprehensive Safety and Environmental Compliance Plan for the next three years.
“It’s imperative that energy extraction be done responsibly and in ways that doesn’t put human health and the environment at risk,” said Ted Stanich, Acting Director of EPA’s criminal enforcement program. “When oil and gas operators cut corners and break the law, EPA will work with its law enforcement partners to hold them accountable in order to protect human health and the Gulf Coast ecosystem from harm.”
The case was investigated by the Department of Interior-Office of Inspector General (Energy Investigations Unit), the Investigations and Review Unit, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the Environmental Protection Agency-Criminal Investigation Division and was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Emily K. Greenfield of the United States Attorney’s Office’s National Security Unit.
If you have witnessed violations of offshore safety and environmental regulations, contact the Louisiana offshore injury attorneys at Lambert Zainey to discuss your legal options. We have more than 40 years of experience handling cases involving violations of offshore safety and environmental regulations.