Oil Platform Explosion Inquiry Nears End 11 Months After Death In Lake Pontchartrain
September 11, 2018
Eleven months after an oil-storage platform exploded in Lake Pontchartrain, injuring seven workers and leading to the death of an eighth, investigators are putting the finishing touches on their inquiry into what sparked the blast. The two lead investigators planned to meet this week and later to report their findings to their superiors, possibly before the first anniversary of the Oct. 15 tragedy, officials said.
The Jefferson Parish coroner's office said Monday (Sept. 10) it determined that Timothy Morrison, 44, of Katy, Texas, accidentally drowned in the incident. Morrison had been missing for five days before his body was found. The key question is what ignited the explosion and fire that left him in the water north of Kenner.
The initial fuel for the fire was natural gas from a well that fed a pipeline to power the platform's electric generator. Crude oil residue also was present.
Ignition might have come from a cigarette, friction, an electrical short or some other source. Investigators have ruled out lightning, Chief Dave Tibbetts of the East Bank Consolidated Fire Department said.
At least seven local and federal agencies have been consulted in the inquiry, an unusual one for a fire department more accustomed to building and automobile fires. "This is an animal that we've never dealt with," fire prevention chief Eric Bacon said.
Fire Department investigator Marshall Gaubert and Sheriff's Office detective Todd Rivere planned to complete their reports this week and submit them for approval, Tibbetts and Bacon said in an interview Friday (Sept. 7).
The platform was operated by Clovelly Oil Co. of New Orleans to collect oil from three wells in the lake and store the crude before barging it elsewhere. As a result of the explosion and fire, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration found two workplace violations and fined the company $25,868, but Clovelly is contesting the citations, according to OSHA records.
At the time of the explosion, eight people, a mix of Clovelly and contract workers, were on the platform. The oil wells had been shut in, Clovelly said. The crew was using steam or chemicals to clear paraffin wax buildup from the pipelines. Some of the workers were on the deck, others in the living quarters 18 feet up, Bacon said.
When the platform exploded in flames, some Kenner residents 1 and 1/2 miles away felt their houses rattle. Seven workers evacuated on a crew boat that had been tied to the platform or a nearby tugboat attached to a barge for the pipe-cleaning process, Tibbetts and Bacon said.
Morrison's body was found five days later in the St. Charles Parish marsh, about 25 feet from the lakeshore, Bacon said. Raised in Athens, Texas, and an oil and gas industry worker since college, he left behind a wife and three children.