Platform Owner Involved in Previous Offshore Accidents Regulators Say

Houston-based Mariner Energy paid $55,000 in fines this summer after inspectors found safety violations. Four of the company’s accidents resulted in worker injuries, records show.

By Julie Cart and P.J. Huffstutter, Los Angeles Times

Mariner Energy, which owns the platform that erupted in flames Thursday, has been involved in more than a dozen offshore accidents in the Gulf of Mexico in the last four years, including at least four fires and a well blowout, according to federal regulators.

In one of those accidents aboard the oil and gas platform known as Vermilion Block 380, which seriously injured a worker in 2008, federal inspectors highlighted “unsafe workmanlike operations,” according to federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement records.

This summer, the Houston-based Mariner paid $55,000 in fines stemming from inspections that turned up various safety violations. Four of Mariner’s accidents resulted in worker injuries; two of them involved fires, according to federal records.

Still, the company’s safety record does not rank it among the gulf’s worst operators, but underscores the inherent dangers of offshore energy prospecting and production: The tiniest spark can result in a catastrophic fire or explosion.

For example, a Mariner production platform caught fire in June 2009 after a methanol tank exploded during a welding operation. A fire on another Mariner platform broke out the year before during a routine cleaning operation.

The production platform involved in Thursday’s fire was set in about 340 feet of water about 102 miles off Louisiana. On average, it produced about 9 million cubic feet of natural gas, and 1,400 barrels of oil and condensate a day, according to the company.

Mariner Energy is considered to be a small- to mid-sized independent offshore exploration and production firm, but one that was growing rapidly in recent years and showed a lot of promise, said Bruce Bullock, director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University.

“They’ve had a fair amount of success, particularly in the deep water in the gulf,” Bullock said.

That success came after Mariner clawed its way back from the brink of dissolution in the early 2000s, when former energy giant Enron owned 96% of the Houston-based firm. A group of private equity investors bought it out of the Enron bankruptcy in 2004.

Two years later, using a complicated transaction and bolstered by Gulf of Mexico assets acquired from rival Forest Oil Corp., Mariner went public.

Louisiana Oil Drilling Platform Explosion and Fire

The ultra-deepwater, semi-submersible rig Deepwater Horizon is shown operating in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. It is operated by Houston-based Transocean Ltd.

At least 11 people were missing and seven injured after an explosion and fire at an oil drilling platform off the coast of Louisiana, the Coast Guard said Wednesday.

Most of the 126 people were believed to have escaped safely after the explosion at about 10 p.m. Tuesday, Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Mike O’Berry said. It happened about 52 miles southeast of Venice on Louisiana’s tip.

The rig was still burning Wednesday morning and was listing about 10 degrees, O’Berry said.

“It’s burning pretty good and there’s no estimate on when the fire will be put out,” O’Berry said.

O’Berry said there were conflicting reports coming in but at least 11 — and possibly as many as 15 — were missing.

“We’re hoping everyone’s in a life raft,” he said.

Seven workers were airlifted to a Naval air station near New Orleans, then taken to hospitals. He said two of the seven were taken to a trauma center in Mobile, Ala., where there is a burn unit.

O’Berry said many workers who escaped the rig were being brought to land on a workboat while authorities searched the Gulf of Mexico for any signs of lifeboats.

The rig, Deepwater Horizon, was drilling but was not in production, according to Greg Panegos, spokesman for its owner, Transocean Ltd., in Houston. The rig was under contract to BP.

Causes of Offshore Helicopter Crashes

Helicopters are used to transport offshore oil rig workers to and from the job site and to carry equipment and parts. When a helicopter crashes, the outcome is usually catastrophic. Last year, a helicopter crashed in the Gulf of Mexico as it carried oil platform workers. Five men died in the offshore helicopter accident. The crash prompted a lawsuit against Rotorcraft Leasing Co., LLC and Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc.

There are many known causes of helicopter accidents, including helicopter owner negligence, poor weather conditions, inadequate ground mechanics, excessive loads, poor maintenance and manufacturing defects. Helicopters are complex machines and many things can go wrong.

If negligence was involved in the helicopter accident, the company or person who was negligent may be held accountable. In the case of a defective part or design flaw, the manufacturer of the helicopter may be liable.

Helicopter accident cases are complex. If you or a loved one has been injured in a maritime helicopter accident, you may be able to pursue compensation. You need to contact an experienced maritime attorney who will explain your legal rights. Contact our law firm today to discuss your legal options.

There is Compensation Available for an Oil Rig Injury

If you have sustained an oil rig injury, there is some good news for you. There are laws that exist, which protect injured workers and allow them to obtain compensation for their injuries. Depending on the type of job you have, you may be entitled to a significant amount of money, especially if negligence was involved.

The Jones Act is a federal law that protects the rights of injured seamen. To qualify for compensation under this law, you must be classified as a seaman, which is basically someone who works on a vessel or is assigned to a fleet of vessels for his employer. Movable or jack-up drilling rigs are considered vessels, so if you work on one of these types of rigs, you should be considered a seaman. If you work on a fixed platform, you are not classified as a seaman, but there are other laws that protect you.

Under the Jones Act, you can pursue compensation for lost wages, pain and suffering, medical expenses, mental anguish and disfigurement. This compensation is generally available when the vessel owner, employer, co-workers, operators or officers were negligent in some way, which led to your maritime injuries.

Offshore Oil Drilling Can Cause Serious Injuries

Offshore workers who drill in deepwater participate in one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. Drilling in the ocean with depths of over 5 miles poses challenges and dangers for offshore workers that are unique to other industries. Heavy machinery, explosions, fires, slippery surfaces and chemical exposure are not uncommon on offshore oil rigs.

The Gulf of Mexico is the only area in the United States where oil companies are allowed to drill. The deepwater oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico are believed to hold up to 2.8 billion barrels of hydrocarbons, which is why nearly one-third of the world’s deepwater rigs are active in this area. Oil drillers have to work hard to extricate the oil from sandstone formations that are found 5 miles down into the ocean and then ship the oil 150 miles to land. The work can be strenuous and often results in serious offshore injuries.

Workers on offshore oil rigs have to combat hurricanes, toxic chemicals and strong currents that tug at the drill pipe. They also use heavy equipment that can be difficult to work with and often leads to serious injuries or death.

Injured offshore workers are protected under the law and have the right to collect compensation for their injuries caused by drilling offshore. Contact an offshore injury attorney at our law firm for a free legal consultation.

Neck Injuries Caused by Working on an Offshore Rig

Offshore rig and platform injuries can be serious and often lead to prolonged pain and time away from work. One of the most common injuries associated with working on a semi-submersible, work boat, supply vessel, jack up rig, drill ship or drill barge involves the neck. Every year, thousands of Americans suffer neck injuries or strains resulting from job-related activities. Neck injuries are especially prevalent within the maritime industry due to the laborious work and lifting of heavy objects.

Neck pain should not be ignored. If you work on an offshore rig or platform and have been experiencing neck pain, it could cause more permanent damage. Problems in the cervical spine, which is the first seven bones in the neck running from the base of the brain and just below the shoulder blades, should be examined and treated, especially if the complications were the result of an accident onboard a rig or other vessel.

There are two types of neck pain, one that is felt down the shoulders and arms and another that involves no pain, only numbness or weakness. Dull pain felt down the shoulders and arms could be caused by a herniated disc, also known as a bulging disc in the spine. This type of pain is felt when a nerve is pinched in the neck. Since the discs in the spine are soft, they can also bulge and become misshapen. Bulging discs are often caused by stress on the spine, overuse of the spine or degeneration.

Symptoms of a Neck Injury

Symptoms of a neck injury vary, but it is important to recognize and understand warning signs. Neck injury symptoms include some the following:

  • Neck soreness
  • Tingling
  • Burning
  • Stiffness
  • Numbness, weakness or pain in the arm
  • Trouble swallowing, writing, talking or walking
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Blurred vision
  • Fever
  • Night sweats

There are also emergency signs of a more serious injury, which include high fever, light sensitivity, irritability, severe tenderness in the neck, numbness or weakness. If you experience any of these symptoms, you need to obtain medical treatment immediately.

After a doctor assesses and diagnoses your neck injury, a >treatment plan will be recommended. It often takes weeks to fully recover from a neck strain or injury. Your doctor may suggest rest and local heat application. Pain that lasts beyond 2 to 3 weeks may require physical therapy. Typically, a neck injury does not need specific medical intervention.

If you have been injured while working on an offshore rig or platform, you are protected under the Jones Act and can be compensated for your injuries.

Offshore Rig Injuries and the Jones Act

Many offshore rig workers who have been injured do not realize their legal right to compensation. If you have been injured on an oil rig, drill barge, semi-submersible or other vessel, your injury case will most likely be covered under the Jones Act and General Maritime Law.

Injuries that occur on a drill barge, oil rig, semi-submersible or other vessel tend to be serious and often require a lengthy recover. Some of the common injuries associated with oil rig accidents include:

  • Back injury
  • Neck injury
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Head injury
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Broken bones

There are many potential causes of rig accidents, including:

  • Equipment that malfunctions
  • Defective machinery
  • Explosions
  • Falling debris
  • Toxic chemical exposure
  • Vessel crashes
  • Slippery surfaces

The Jones Act allows injured maritime workers to pursue compensation for their offshore injuries. To be entitled to this compensation, known as maintenance and cure, you must be considered a seaman. By definition, a seaman is a member of the crew of a vessel or someone who is assigned to a fleet of vessels for his employer. In most instances, an oil rig, jack up rig, drill barge and other types of rigs are considered to be vessels in navigation even though they do not move under their own power, as they still move from one location to the next.

Under the Jones Act, if your oil rig injury was caused by negligence of your employer or other responsible party, you may be able to file a Jones Act claim. A successful Jones Act case could entitle you to a higher amount of compensation than maintenance and cure. For example, damages available for Jones Act cases include past and future medical expenses, pain and suffering, mental anguish, disfigurement and lost wages, both past and present.

If you were injured on a fixed platform, there are other laws such as the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act that provide legal protection and allow you to recover compensation.

Speak to a Maritime Lawyer

Contact an experienced maritime accident attorney at our law firm to help you determine the appropriate course of action for your offshore rig accident case. We offer a free and confidential legal consultation. There are deadlines as to when you can file an offshore injury claim, so it is important that you take immediate action following your injury by contacting a maritime lawyer.

Deepwater Oil Fields Pose Unique Dangers to Offshore Workers

As the demand for oil increases, so does the need for offshore oil drilling. In the United States, the western Gulf of Mexico is the only area where oil companies are allowed to drill. Deepwater oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico, which are more than 1,000 feet below water, have plenty of oil. However, the dangers for offshore workers on these drilling rigs are substantial.

Offshore oil drilling presents unique challenges, as oil is extricated from sandstone formations located five miles down in the ocean, which has to be shipped 150 miles to land. Some veteran offshore oil drillers remember the days when drilling two miles down into the ocean was considered a huge feat.

The industry’s first offshore well was drilled in 1947 near the Louisiana coast in water that was not much deeper than a swimming pool. Last year alone, 130 deepwater projects produced oil, according to Minerals Management Service. Chevron believes that by 2015, deepwater wells will account for one-quarter of offshore oil production versus 9 percent today.

Nearly one-third of the world’s deepwater rigs are active in the Gulf of Mexico and many of these rigs focus on the Lower Tertiary, which is an ancient formation that spans from Texas to Louisiana. This area is located far offshore and is believed to hold up to 2.8 billion barrels of hydrocarbons.

Even though the potential for oil is great in deepwater, offshore workers are faced with dangers that could cause serious injuries and death. Drilling rig workers have to battle hurricanes, toxic chemicals and strong currents that tug at the drill pipe. To drill in offshore oil fields, heavy equipment is needed, which also poses safety hazards to offshore workers.

Offshore oil drilling comes at a cost and frequently that cost is severe injuries suffered by workers. For example, offshore workers on oil rigs are often the victims of serious accidents, such as falls, chemical exposure, explosions and fires.

Your Legal Rights

If you have been injured while working on an offshore rig, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. Accidents on offshore oil rigs are sometimes caused by negligence and you can hold the vessel owner responsible. Contact the experienced offshore injury attorneys at our law firm for a free and confidential consultation. We will review your case to determine who was at fault for your injuries and the amount of compensation you deserve.

Injured on an Offshore Platform?

The work environment on an offshore platform, also referred to as an oil platform or oil rig, can be dangerous. Surfaces tend to be oily and slippery, machinery can malfunction and fires can erupt, which increases the risk of a serious accident offshore. Cases involving platform injuries can be complex as there are different laws that protect workers.

The law that will apply to an offshore platform injury depends on whether the platform is fixed to the ocean floor or if it can be moved. In many cases, the platform is permanently fixed to the ocean floor, which could fall under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. If you have been injured on an offshore oil platform, you need to speak with an experienced maritime attorney who can determine the best course of action for your case.

Under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, longshoremen who work upon navigable waters in the United States may be entitled to compensation for their injuries. To qualify under this federal law, you must have a traditional relationship to maritime employment. The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act provides benefits for injured longshoremen, including medical care, lost wages and rehabilitation services. Temporary disability benefits are available when you are not able to immediately return to work. Temporary benefits equal 66 2/3 percent of your average weekly wages.

Injuries that occur on offshore oil platforms tend to become complicated. For example, there were various opinions regarding the benefits available to a man who was injured while living and working on an oil production platform. He applied for benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, only to have his claim contested by the insurance company. The issue was whether or not he qualified under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, because the platform where he was injured was not used for maritime purposes. After his case went all the way to a U.S. federal appeals court, he was eventually able to qualify for benefits for maritime employees.

If you have been injured on an oil platform, you should seek legal advice immediately. An experienced maritime lawyer will be able to review your case to help you determine what law applies. In some situations, you may be able to file a claim against a third party under General Maritime Law.

What They May Not Tell You After An Oil Rig Injury

As an oil rig worker, you have legal rights that could entitle you to compensation if you have sustained an offshore injury. You may be contacted by the insurance company following an oil rig accident, but what you probably will not be told is that you may be able to file a lawsuit and obtain a substantial amount of compensation, if negligence was involved.

There are federal laws that protect offshore oil rig workers, including the Jones Act and General Maritime Law. These laws are meant to protect you and allow you to hold the vessel owner or third party accountable for their negligent actions. You may be entitled to compensation if there was negligence by your employer, co-workers, operators or officers, which caused you to sustain offshore injuries.

As an injured maritime worker, you are able to sue your employer or other responsible party directly. Jones Act lawsuits are different than workers’ compensation claims in that they are not limited to “no fault” arrangements and other non-negotiable terms.

Compensation from a Jones Act case can be substantial and often includes lost wages, medical expenses, pain and suffering, mental anguish and disfigurement. To be eligible for Jones Act compensation, you must be considered a seaman under the law. Generally, people who work on offshore oil rigs are considered seamen.

Don’t let your employer or their insurance company bully you into signing documents or accepting a settlement until you talk with an experienced maritime attorney. If you agree upon a settlement before talking with a maritime injury lawyer, you could be forfeiting money that you deserve. Too often employers and insurance companies offer settlements far below what the injury cases are worth.