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Exploding Rig: Mariner Energy and Its Parent Company Paid $745,000 in 2010 for Safety Violations

Another oil rig has blown up in the Gulf of Mexico. The Vermilion 380 is owned by Mariner Energy which was recently purchased by by Apache Energy, according to Think Progress. Together, these two companies have paid $745,000 in fines to the Minerals Management Service in 2010 alone, according to my review of public records.

Reviewing the Minerals Management Service database, I see that Apache paid a $435,000 fine on April 23 for the following lapse which apparently unfolded over a period of weeks in January 2009:

The level controller had been removed from the caisson sump, therefore the sump system could not automatically maintain oil at a level sufficient to prevent discharge into the Gulf of Mexico.

Apache also paid a $255,000 fine in April for the following infraction:

On May 2, 2009, the Surface-Controlled  Subsurface Safety Valve (SCSSV) at Well JA-001, failed due to a leakage rate greater than the allowable rate of 5 cubic feet/minute. Records indicate that no corrective action to remove, repair, reinstall, or replace was taken prior to the May 19, 2009, notification of inspection. (Emphasis added.)

Mariner Energy paid a $35,000 fine in May for the following infraction:

Operator conducted operations without an H2S Contingency Plan with confirmed concentrations and volumes of H2S that could potentially result in atmospheric concentrations of 20 ppm.

Mariner Energy was also fined $20,000 in June for the following lapse:

The heliport on a platform was taken out of service due to a fire, leaving a boat landing as the only access to the structure. The boat landing was taken out of service during an inspection due to corroded grating and missing handrails.   Personnel did not have a safe way to visit this platform.

Original Reporting, please credit Lindsay Beyerstein.

[Photo credit: For illustration, a photo of an unidentified oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico by kk+, Creative Commons.]

Update: Apache paid another spectacular fine of $446,000 in 2007 for repeatedly neglecting blow out prevention (BOP) equipment. A failed BOP was the ultimate cause of the Deepwater Horizon spill: 

Records verified that there was not a low or high pressure test conducted on the following BOP related equipment: HCR choke valve, manual choke valve, HCR kill valve, manual kill valve, kill line check valve, IBOP, TIW valve and choke manifold. These violations were for 2 BOP test periods, 7/19/2006 and 7/26/2006. A mud-pit-level indicator with both visual and audible warning devices had not been installed. There was not a BOP station installed in the work basket of the snubbing unit. The secondary power source (air supply) was isolated with a closed manual block valve located on the inlet piping to the accumulator.

This was before it Apache bought Mariner.

A fine over $400,000 is epic relative to typical penalties for offshore drilling violators listed in the MMS database. Most fines in the database range from a few thousand dollars and a few tens of thousands of dollars. To give you some idea how badly you have to screw up to be fined over $400,000 twice: Chevron USA was only fined $350,000 in 2001 for a hydrogen sulfide gas leak that damaged the platform, in the opinion of investigators, could have killed everyone on board and destroyed the platform. 


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