Louisiana Record

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Amid lawsuit over 2017 pipeline explosion, industry group head says production 'as safe as ever'

By Glenn Minnis | Mar 7, 2018

BATON ROUGE — Don Briggs argues that the 2017 natural gas pipeline explosion in St. Charles Parish that killed a man and the ongoing litigation over it shouldn’t be viewed as an indictment of his industry.

“I’m still not sure what happened with the accident and have no idea what might happen with the suit,” Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association, told the Louisiana Record. “But I do know the industry has continued to get safer over time. Production is as safe as ever, and as time progresses we learn more of what to do to keep things (safe). Many of the accidents that may happen now are through no fault of the companies but result of human error.”

In the St. Charles Parish mishap, Josh Helms, 36, of Choctaw was killed when a fire broke out in February 2017 at the Phillips 66 Partners Paradis Pipeline Station. Two other workers were also injured.

Don Briggs

It took fire officials four days to extinguish the blaze, which occurred approximately 30 miles east of Thibodaux. Helms had worked at a pipeline for at least eight years, joining Phillips 66 with the acquisition of the River Parish system in November 2016.

At the time of the fire, six people were working at the site, three each from Phillips 66 and three contract workers from the Cut Off-based Blanchard Contractors.

Since then, Mandy Helms, the widow of Josh Helms, and Phillips 66 have both sued Blanchard in state district court charging that one of the workers assigned by the company opened or operated valves without making sure they were aligned, instantly causing the release of natural gas leading to the explosion.

Mandy Helms is also suing on behalf of her minor daughter, while Phillips 66 officials allege they lost everything at the station.

Both suits seek unspecified damages, with Helm’s additionally seeking compensation for loss of income, and medical and psychological services stemming from her husband’s death.

“The accident is a tragedy, especially since we in the industry always strive to be accident-free,” Briggs said. “By the same token, lawsuits are a common thing in Louisiana. That’s why we’ve been rated as a judicial hellhole. You can create a suit about almost anything.”

Mandy Helms is being represented by the Block Law Firm in Thibodaux, while Phillips 66 is represented by the Kean Miller law firm in Baton Rouge.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has already fined Blanchard $10,864, but that citation is being contested.

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Louisiana Oil & Gas Association