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Deadliest Oil Rig Explosions in the U.S.

Posted in High Seas, High Risk: Offshore Injury on August 17, 2015

Oil rig explosions have become an unfortunate occurrence in the offshore drilling industry. Oil rig fires and explosions cause some of the most catastrophic injuries and environmental damage. Injuries from these incidents can cause total body burns, amputations, smoke inhalation injuries, and many times, death. Here is an outline of some of the most tragic in recent history:

  • October 23rd, 2007. A deadly explosion occurred on the Usumacinta jack-up rig in the Gulf of Mexico. The explosion of the Mexican-owned Pemex platform claimed the lives of 22 men. The explosion was a result of oil and gas leakage, which occurred after a storm caused the cantilever decks to collide with a production valve. In the following months, the jack-up platform suffered two more fires, though neither of them resulted in death or injury.
  • April 20th, 2010. The Transocean oil drillship Deepwater Horizon exploded just 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana. The explosion caused the ship to sink, creating the Gulf oil spill of 2010. The explosion took the lives of 11 workers and injured an additional 16 employees. To date, this is considered the deadliest explosion and largest oil spill in U.S. waters. It is also considered the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history. The explosion was thought to be due to unusually frequent “kicks,” or contact with natural gas pockets. Overtime, the natural gas built up in the pipelines, leading to the deadly blowout.
  • November, 2012. An oil-drilling rig owned by Black Elk Energy exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. The incident occurred just days after the $4.5 billion settlement for the deadly Deepwater Horizon explosion. The explosion was caused by flammable vapors inside piping, which were ignited when workers began welding a pipe that had not been contained properly. The explosion led to 11 serious injuries and three deaths.
  • November, 2014. A Fieldwood Energy rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. The Houston-based company’s rig was not producing oil at the time of the explosion, and the blast didn’t result in any oil spillage. It did, however, result in the death of one contracted worker and injuries to three other employees. The explosion occurred when workers were cleaning a Heater-Treater, which is known for causing issues like fires and explosions. A tube within the equipment collapsed due to corrosion, causing the explosion.

Five years after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, another explosion occurred in American waters. In April of this year, the Mexican oil drilling company Pemex lost four workers to the explosion. This brought the total number of fire-related deaths for the company to 64 in less than three years. The fire also injured an additional 16 workers, and the remaining 300 workers were evacuated. The explosion was caused by an issue in the de-watering and pumping area of the platform.

Deadly Oil Rig Explosions From Around the World

Aside from the Deepwater Horizon incident, most of the deadliest oil rig explosions have taken place in other parts of the world. The Piper Alpha disaster in July of 1988 remains the worst offshore drilling disaster in world history. At the time, the platform was owned and operated by Occidental, and it was stationed about 120 miles of the coast of Aberdeen. The explosion was caused by gas leakage coming from a condensate pipe. The blast resulted in the tragic deaths of 167 workers. Only 61 of the 226 on-board workers survived.

The Enchova Central Platform Disaster of 1984 occurred off the coast of Rio de Janeiro. The explosion was caused by a blowout and led to 42 deaths. Four years later, the same platform suffered another massive blowout. Though the second incident didn’t result in any injuries, the flames burned for months and led to the Enchova being declared a total loss.