Federal Safety Agency Underreporting Deaths of Offshore Drilling Industry Workers

by Vins
Published: Updated:

According to an August 2021 article by the Energy News Network, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement Agency (BSEE) underreported offshore oil and gas worker fatalities from 2005 to 2019. BSEE’s narrow reporting criteria excluded nearly half of the offshore deaths that occurred between these years, grossly distorting the level of danger still inherent to the job.

“I’m cynical, but I really thought the system would work,” Leo Linder, who worked on BP’s Deepwater Horizon, told ENN. The offshore oil rig famously exploded in 2010, killing eleven workers and triggering a catastrophic spill that devastated the Gulf’s marine life. “There were certainly signs in hindsight. My faith in the system working was pretty solid, even after the initial explosion I couldn’t fathom it was a blowout.”

On-site deaths for non-work-related incidents are not counted in the BSEE yearly report. For example, two offshore workers were killed in a helicopter crash in 2019. However, the BSEE does not report “deaths that occur while workers are in transport to offshore facilities.” Additionally, BSEE does not require oil companies to report deaths in state waters, and there is no known state agency in Texas or Louisiana that keeps a record of offshore worker fatalities.

Six worker fatalities were reported in 2019 by BSEE, which is the most in a year since 2010, despite the history of underreporting. Four of these offshore workers fell to their deaths from platforms. In 2019, one offshore worker fell through a piece of worn grating. Yet, less than a day before, a supervisor took note of the issue, and instead of fixing the grating right away, the supervisor placed a piece of tape over the corroded area until they had the time to complete the repair. Out of the known eighty-three deaths from 2005-2019, 30 percent were classified as non-occupational deaths. In 2021, six men died and seven went missing when their boat capsized while going to an oil rig in the Gulf. These deaths will not be accounted for in the 2021 BSEE report.

Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, says offshore work has become safer over time, despite growing evidence to suggest otherwise. From 2017 to 2019, “the rate of spills, fires, and loss of well control” climbed after a brief dip, according to BSEE’s self-reported data collected in 2019.

As of December 7, 2021, there is no major establishment news source covering this issue.

Source: Sara Sneath, “Offshore Oil and Gas Fatalities Underreported by Federal Safety Agency,” Energy News Network, August 18, 2021.

Student Researchers: Vinncent Santilli and Noah Orser  (SUNY Cortland)

Faculty Evaluator: Christina Knopf (SUNY Cortland)