Search crews have found the body of a man who has been missing since an October 15 oil rig explosion in Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain. Timothy Morrison, a 44-year-old father of three from Katy, Texas was one of eight men aboard the platform when the blast occurred.
A team from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office (JPSO) found Morrison’s body after a five-day search using helicopters, boats, trucks and ATVs, Sheriff Joe Lopinto said during an October 20 news conference. At around 1:00 p.m. that afternoon, a helicopter crew spotted Morrison’s body on the shoreline of the lake about three miles from the platform, Lopinto said. He expressed his sorrow for the family and his hope that the recovery of Morrison’s remains would help to bring them closure.
In the aftermath of the explosion, the Coast Guard joined the JPSO and other first responders in the search and rescue efforts for Morrison, but suspended its efforts when the operation transitioned to search and recovery. When asked that day how long he would continue to search for Morrison, Lopinto replied, “as long as it takes.”
A memorial service was held for Morrison in Texas on October 22.
Clovelly Oil and Gas Platform Explosion in Louisiana
Lake Pontchartrain is a brackish estuary on Louisiana’s southeastern coast covering 630 square miles with an average of depth of 10-15 feet. For more than 20 years, there has been a moratorium on new drilling in the lake, but producers existing before that time were grandfathered in.
Clovelly Oil Co. Inc. of New Orleans owns four producing wells and a transfer platform on the lake. The storage platform is located near the border of Jefferson and St. Charles Parishes about a mile and a half from the shore of the city of Kenner. It serves as a storage tank for the producing wells that pump oil and gas to it through pipelines on the floor of the lake.
On the evening of October 15, a crew of eight men were aboard the platform, three Clovelly employees and five subcontractors. They were performing what Clovelly described in a statement as “routine maintenance” when the blast occurred around 7:15 p.m. A fire that immediately followed the explosion engulfed the rig in flames.
The seven men who were immediately located all sustained burns and explosion injuries and were transported to local hospitals. Four of them men; Paul Pfister, 52, of Mandeville; Cody Boudreaux, 23, of Chauvin; and Brent Neil, 52 ,and Devin Billiot, 27, both of Houma, were treated and released. Sixty-two-year-old James Bordelon of Laplace, underwent surgery at UMC and was later released. Alvin Kembrel, 55, of Belle Chase and Lawrence Dufrene, 45, of Marrero, remain hospitalized in the burn unit of Baton Rouge General Hospital. The search for Timothy Morrison began immediately after the oil rig explosion.
Clovelly Oil Rig Explosion Investigation
A study conducted in 2010 found that Louisiana was one of three states, along with Texas and Oklahoma, to report the highest number of oil and gas work-related fatalities. In 2008, there were 13 oil and gas work-related deaths in Louisiana, a 30 percent increase over a five-year period, according to Oil and Gas Industry Fatal and Nonfatal Occupational Injuries, a 2010 report by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. That same year, Texas reported 41 deaths – a 21 percent increase over five years ; and Oklahoma reported 21, a 91 percent increase over five years.
Authorities have not determined the cause of the Clovelly oil rig explosion on Lake Pontchartrain. Structural damage to the platform has slowed the progress of the investigation, they said.
As the investigation progresses, safety measures are one element authorities will be taking a close look at, said Fred Pritzker, an explosion attorney who represents clients who have been injured and families who have suffered the wrongful death of a loved one in an explosion. “What we often see is that these tragedies were preventable,” Pritzker said.
OSHA joins investigation into Lake Pontchartrain oil platform explosion https://t.co/nyrRMwgTcp
— NOLA.com (@NOLAnews) October 18, 2017
On October 18, U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) confirmed to the Times-Picayune that it has an open and ongoing investigation. Created in 1970, OSHA’s stated mission is “to assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.”