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Agency: Company needs to improve offshore safety

Associated Press Modified: November 21, 2012 at 4:01 pm •  Published: November 21, 2012

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal agency told a Texas-based oil production company Wednesday it needs to improve safety at its offshore operations, days after a deadly explosion and fire on one of its platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said Wednesday that Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations has been cited numerous times for incidents in which it failed to comply with regulations.

The bureau noted Friday's fire and an October 2011 incident where use of an acid-based chemical resulted in the hospitalization of six workers. Another 2010 violation resulted in a $307,000 fine.

"Black Elk has repeatedly failed to operate in a manner that is consistent with federal regulations," BSEE Director James A. Watson said in a news release. "BSEE has taken a number of enforcement actions, including issuing numerous Incidents of Non Compliance (INC's), levying civil penalties and calling in the company's senior leadership to review their performance and the ramifications of failing to improve."

The bureau's letter to Black Elk CEO John Hoffman said failure to improve overall performance could lead to steps including revocation of the company's authorization to operate its offshore facilities. Black Elk's website says it has an interest in 155 offshore platforms.

The body of one worker killed in Friday's accident was recovered over the weekend. The search was called off Tuesday for another worker missing since the fire. Four people were hospitalized for serious burns after the accident. The cause of the accident is under investigation.

"We appreciate the perspective of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement," Black Elk spokeswoman Leslie Hoffman said in an emailed response to a request for comment. "Safety is a high priority for Black Elk Energy and we will continue to work cooperatively with local and national federal agencies to understand exactly what happened with the incident at our platform in the Gulf of Mexico."

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