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2012 November 17, Saturday
Gulf of Mexico - Black Elk Platform

The report came in before 10 am CST Friday Nov 16 -- another explosion at an oil platform in the Gulf, only about 20 nm offshore from Grand Isle, Louisiana. A total of 11 people were flown by helicopter to area hospitals, several of whom were in critical condition. An oil sheen about 200 m by 0.5 nm in size was said to be present on Friday, but on today’s flight we did not see significant surface oil in the vicinity.

On Wings Of Care was contacted immediately on Friday and asked to do a flyover. Here are photos and videos taken this morning of the area and the platform on which the explosion occurred, including an unidentified platform discharging smoke a few miles east of the Black Elk platform. The GPS coordinates of the Black Elk platform and a nearby unidentified platform are given at the bottom of this article, and our detailed GPS flight tracks can be downloaded here.

According to the NRC report, the fire and resulting explosion resulted from contractors performing maintenance.  In the course of replacing a skimmer, they used a torch to cut into a 3-inch diameter, 75-foot line coming from a wet oil tank, a line designed to hold about 28 gallons of oil. Apparently the line had not been purged completely before they cut it.

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The oil production platform is in relatively shallow (56-foot-deep) water in West Delta Block 32, about 20 miles southeast of Grand Isle. It is owned by Black Elk Energy from Houston, TX, an independent oil and gas company with over 150 platforms in Texas and Louisiana offshore waters, comprising over 850 oil wells.

It is interesting to note that two other NRC reports have been issued from this Black Elk platform within the past 90 days: a hydraulic oil leak from one structure (http://ow.ly/flWIq), and an 8-gallon oil spill from a test plug on the blowout preventer at another structure (http://ow.ly/flWLC).

Following are videos and still photos of the platform and another nearby platform, taken both from our windows and our belly viewers.  The unidentified rig in the bottom right photo above is located a few miles to the east of the Black Elk Energy platform.  Many thanks to Thad Daly for explaining to us that what looked like smoke coming from it is barite dust being blown out of the lines and hose after the rig had just uploaded a supply of barite from a work boat.

And huge thanks to Brayton Matthews and Burt Lattimore of Flightline First at New Orleans' Lakefront Airport for flying this mission for us and faithfully providing us with the data for this article!  

Here are maps of our flight route.  As always, the detailed file with all the GPS flight track information can be downloaded here. (Instructions are given for how to download it and obtain all of the information on position, altitude, and time for every 30 seconds or so of our flight.)

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GPS Coordinates from today's OWOC flight:

-- N29 07.627  W089 41.51
Black Elk platform.

-- N29 07.25 W089 35.51
Unidentified rig, ~3 nm east of the Black Elk platform.