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$4.2M penalty in deadly 2012 fire on oil platform in Gulf

Posted May 12

— An energy company pleaded guilty Friday to safety and environmental charges, agreeing to a $4.2 million penalty and avoiding manslaughter charges in connection with a 2012 offshore oil platform fire that killed three workers.

Court documents show Houston-based Black Elk Energy pleaded guilty to nine charges related to the Nov. 16, 2012, fire off Louisiana's coast. Prosecutors agreed to seek dismissal of three involuntary manslaughter counts.

The plea agreement filed in U.S. District Court in New Orleans says prosecutors believe it's appropriate because the company is in bankruptcy proceedings. The penalty will be listed as an unsecured claim in the bankruptcy case. Also, prosecutors said the company won't re-emerge as an oil and gas operator or seek Gulf of Mexico energy leases.

Formal sentencing was set for August.

The company pleaded guilty to eight violations of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and one violation of the Clean Water Act.

A 2013 report by federal regulators identified a string of safety lapses that led to the blast, which killed Ellroy Corporal, Jerome Malagapo and Avelino Tajonera.

The platform was about 17 miles (27 kilometers) from Grand Isle, Louisiana, in about 52 feet (15 meters) of water. It had been "shut in" and wasn't producing oil at the time of the explosion. Workers were on the platform preparing to resume production. On the morning of Nov. 16, 2012, a worker ignited oil vapors while welding pipe, triggering a chain reaction that caused oil tanks to explode.

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