Energy companies seek millions from loss of Quarantine Bay well

By Karen Kidd | Apr 26, 2017

NEW ORLEANS — A group that owns the remains of a Quarantine Bay oil and gas well taken out by a flotilla of a tug and barge in September seeks millions in losses from the towing company that owned the tug.

Cox Operating and other plaintiffs in the case allege they sustained more than $1.7 million in removal, cleanup and response costs alone, according to the admiralty and maritime claim lawsuit filed March 7 in U.S. District Court for Louisiana Eastern District.

"Cox has incurred, and will continue to incur, consequential damages as a result of the destruction of the well, including without limitation, lost income and profits, as well as the continuing costs of coffer dam rental to secure the site, and increased costs of final P&A [plug and abandonment] resulting from the response efforts," the lawsuit said.

Cox also lost an estimated $7.5 million in oil reserves the well can no long tap after it was destroyed by a tug owned by Settoon Towing, based in Assumption Bay, now a defendant in the case

"Further, the negligence of Settoon as the owner and operator of the flotilla in proximately causing the collision was so reckless, willful, wanton and egregious as to warrant punitive damages pursuant to the general maritime law," the lawsuit said.

Cox, based in Dallas, owns the well, a six-pile platform structure 5 feet wide and 14 feet long, together with other defendants in the case, Quarantine Bay in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, BHST and Capital Management. The well, originally completed in 1961, was destroyed when Settoon's tug Megan B. Settoon, and the barge it was towing collided with it last September.

The well's navigation light and other equipment was working properly that night and the well itself, in addition to platforms and gas and oil well structures, is listed on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's official nautical chart for Quarantine Bay, according to the lawsuit.

Though Cox does not have any contacts with Settoon, the Megan B. Settoon made more than 50 voyages through Quarantine Bay in the area of the well between December 2015 and September 2016, according to the lawsuit.

Late on Sept. 13, after the Megan B. Settoon and the 2003-built 170 foot, 599 gross ton, with a 6,500 barrel capacity steel-hull tank SMI-245 barge it was towing had spent much of the day taking on crude oil at Cox's tank battery 2 in Quarantine Bay, the tug headed for the Plains facility in Venice, Louisiana, in clear weather and 10-mile visibility. 

Just before 11 p.m., the tug and barge collided with the well and its platform structure and became stuck on what remained. The tug's crew then spent several hours trying to power the Megan B. Settoon and the barge from the well, "notwithstanding the potential threat of further damage to/explosions from the compromised well structure and/or pollution from the Well and/or a hull breach in the loaded SMI-245 barge itself," the lawsuit said.

"At no point in time did the crew of the Megan B. Settoon ever contact Cox to notify Cox that the flotilla had struck the well," the lawsuit said.

About an hour after the collision, as the crew tried to get the tug and barge off of the well, a low-pressure alarm sounded at the Quarantine Bay quarters platform, indicating a leak in the well's compressed gas system, which sent quarters Cox platform personnel to the well to check it out. 

Personnel soon noticed the lights of the tug and barge "spinning in place in the general vicinity of the well" and found that about 40 feet of the barge was on top of the well, the lawsuit said. The well's gas-lift line was broken, causing pressurized gas to bubble up and around the barge, the lawsuit said.

The Cox personnel shut off the compressed gas and the well's flow line and then investigated the area for any evidence of hydrocarbon pollution. The incident then was reported to Forefront Emergency Management, Cox's designated emergency response contractor and took other steps in compliance with the Clean Water Act.

The barge and tug was dislodged from the well before 8 a.m. the morning after the collision. The platform and well were completely destroyed, the suit says.

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