Deaths & Injuries in the Oil and Gas Industry are Excessive

by admin on November 1, 2019

High pressure operations with flammable gas and liquids

Death in the Oilfields — Fatalities from Working on Drilling Rigs, etc.

From an Article by Jim Morris, Center for Public Integrity, December 21, 2018

OKLAHOMA CITY — From 2008 through 2017, 1,566 workers perished trying to extract oil and gas in America. About as many U.S. troops died fighting in Afghanistan during that period.

Parker Waldridge had worked in the Oklahoma oilfields since he was 16 and acquired the traits that make a good driller: fortitude, intellect and a healthy respect for the power of a runaway gas well.

And so, when Waldridge’s wife, Dianna, heard there had been an accident on a rig he was working near Quinton, in the southeastern corner of the state, last January 22, she tried to stay calm. Parker, an independent contractor hired as a well site consultant, was obsessed with safety and had not once expressed fear about a job during their 34-year marriage, she told herself.

Still, on the four-hour drive to Quinton from their home in Crescent, north of Oklahoma City, dread began to creep in. Dianna had learned before leaving that Parker was among five men missing after an explosion on Patterson Rig 219, operated by Houston-based Patterson-UTI. At a church in Quinton, she sat with her four grown daughters, a son-in-law and the other workers’ families, awaiting confirmation of what everyone there suspected: the men weren’t coming back. They would have to be identified through dental records.

Drilling is an inherently dangerous undertaking, with a fatality rate nearly five times that of all industries in the United States combined in 2014, the last year such rates on oil and gas extraction were published by the government. Production pressures — and the temptation to cut corners — intensify during boom times, as America is experiencing now due to a rush of fossil-fuel exports.

The work of coaxing oil and gas from thousands of feet underground is performed in biting cold and breathtaking heat by stoics like Parker Waldridge, who burned to death at 60 in a driller’s cabin, known as a doghouse, atop the floor of Rig 219.

“It is a macho world,” said Frank Parker, a safety consultant in Magnolia, Texas, who has studied the industry and its workers for more than 50 years. “They get up in the morning and eat nails for breakfast. We need those people to do that kind of work. We’ve just got to find a way not to kill them.”

“We need those people to do that kind of work. We’ve just got to find a way not to kill them.”

From 2008 through October 25 of this year, the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited companies in the extraction industry for 10,873 violations, a Center for Public Integrity analysis of OSHA data found. Sixty-four percent of the violations were classified by the agency as “serious,” meaning inspectors found hazards likely to result in “death or serious physical harm.” Another 3 percent were classified as “repeated,” meaning the company previously had been cited for the hazard, or “willful,” indicating “purposeful disregard” for the law or “plain indifference to employee safety.”

During that period, OSHA investigated 552 accidents resulting in the death of at least one worker. Among these were 11 accidents involving Patterson-UTI; OSHA found violations in 10.

Initial penalties in the 552 accidents averaged $16,813, but later were reduced, on average, by 30 percent. (OSHA often cuts fines in exchange for quick settlements and hazard abatement). Some violations are still being contested by employers. Others were dropped by OSHA after negotiations with companies.

The number of workers exposed to death, injury and illness in the upstream portion of the oil and gas industry — exploration and production — is growing, especially in the frenetic Permian Basin of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico. At the beginning of December, according to figures from oilfield services firm Baker Hughes, the basin accounted for more than half of the nation’s operating drilling rigs — 489 in all.

In Texas, oil and gas extraction firms employ 2,400 more people than they did a year ago. But the real job growth has come in support activities: As of October, companies employed 170,600 derrick operators, rotary drill operators and other workers — 50,000 more positions than at the start of the decade. This puts more workers in the path of bone-crushing machinery, explosive gases and cancer-causing chemicals.

Asked how OSHA is responding, a Labor Department spokesman wrote in an email that enforcement crackdowns, centered on the oil and gas industry, are under way in five regions of the country. (The one covering Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico officially lapsed in October but OSHA inspectors are operating as if it were still in effect, the spokesman wrote.)

Nonetheless, the upstream industry is exempt from key OSHA rules that apply to other industries. It does not have to comply, for example, with the process safety management standard, which requires that refineries, chemical plants and other high-hazard operations adopt procedures to prevent fires, explosions and chemical leaks.

OSHA decided not to include upstream in the original standard in 1992 because it had proposed a rule specifically aimed at drilling. That rule was killed by the White House, whose occupant at the time, George H.W. Bush, had run his own oil company in Texas before entering politics. Unnerved by a catastrophic blast at a Texas fertilizer plant in 2013, then-President Barack Obama ordered OSHA to begin the process of updating the rule. The agency sought, among other things, to bring upstream into the fold.

The response was chilly. The International Association of Drilling Contractors said the removal of the exemption would do “little to improve safety,” impose “unnecessary regulatory burdens and ultimately … result in Americans being put out of work.” The exemption stayed.

David Michaels, who led OSHA at the time, said he met regularly with upstream leaders and they were not universally opposed to more regulation. Still, trade groups such as the American Petroleum Institute argued for the status quo, pointing to the industry’s relatively low injury rate. Michaels didn’t buy it. “They have a low injury rate because they often don’t report their injuries,” he said in a recent interview. “They have a very high fatality rate, so it’s simply not possible they have a low injury rate.”

In a written statement, institute spokesman Reid Porter said, “API members strictly adhere to OSHA recordable injury reporting and other regulatory reporting requirements.” He wrote that injury rates within the upstream industry are decreasing and that the process safety management standard “may not apply well to upstream activities.”

>>> This article is part of a collaboration between the Center for Public Integrity, The Texas Tribune, The Associated Press and Newsy.


See also: Texas oil worker, 44, died after being overcome by gas at a pump house and his wife was also killed by the fumes when she checked on him as their children waited in the car outside …..

>>> A couple from Odessa, Texas, died of gas poisoning on Saturday night, October 26, 2019
>>> Jacob Dean, 44, was called by Aghorn Energy to check on a pump house
>>> Natalee Dean, 37, and the couple’s two kids drove to the pump house after Jacob didn’t return home
>>> The couple inhaled hydrogen sulfide, also known as H2S gas, at the pump house and died
>>> The children were treated for mild H2S exposure and are staying with their grandparents
>>> The gas H2S can kill a person almost instantly and in some cases cannot be identified by smell

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Russian Oil November 1, 2019 at 7:41 pm

How Russia contaminated $2.7 billion of oil exports to Europe – Reuters News Service, April 30, 2019

The oil was contaminated with organic chlorides, compounds used in the industry to boost extraction from oilfields by cleaning oil wells and accelerating the flow of crude.

The compounds must be removed before oil enters pipelines as they can destroy refining equipment or, at high temperatures, create the poisonous gas chlorine.

Tests by Belarus on oil from Druzhba showed organic chloride levels of 150-330 parts per million (ppm) between April 19 and 22, according to Gomeltransneft documents seen by Reuters, well above the maximum 10 ppm allowed by Transneft.


Mary Wildfire November 2, 2019 at 9:33 am

Why can’t I read the one comment it says is already up?

My comment is:

I expect they report deaths accurately, serious injuries pretty accurately, avoid reporting minor injuries…but when it comes to ill health from chemical exposure to workers (and others) I’ll bet the reporting barely touches the reality.

How many workers get cancer, or other conditions, or father children with birth defects, because of this exposure? Who knows — you can bet neither the industry nor any governmental body wants to look into that.

Mary Wildfire, Roane County, WV


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