Recent data from the federal Bureau of Labor and Statistics has revealed that of all of the oil field deaths throughout the United States, Texas accounts for 40% of them. That statistic covers the time period 2007 to 2012, when 663 oil field workers were killed overall. This period is significant because 2007 marked the beginning of the hydraulic fracturing — also known as “fracking” — and onshore drilling boom.
The number does not account for the workers who were seriously injured. The Houston Chronicle found that in 2012 alone, 79 workers lost limbs, 82 workers were crushed, 92 workers suffered from burns, and 675 workers suffered broken bones in accidents on the job site. One attorney representing some of the injured workers described it as “like the Wild West out there.” Meanwhile, 65 workers lost their lives in 2012 — 60% more than in 2011, and representing a 10-year high.
The reasons appear to be due to a combination of company indifference to safety and failure of federal oversight. While some well service companies at least made an effort to install safety programs, others did not implement anything. Meanwhile, federal officials have gone an estimated 22 years without implementing safety standards and procedures for onshore oil and gas drilling. By contrast, after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill offshore, in the Gulf of Mexico, improvements were made in offshore safety regulations. This included sending out more inspectors who had received special training, and tighter oil and gas safety regulations.
Yet a retired regional administrator for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) noted ruefully that only 11 workers died in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, while “no one pays attention” when 60 workers die at once. In fact, he claimed the offshore drilling was much safer than drilling onshore, in that outdated equipment that had been banned from offshore drilling was still in use onshore. Nor does OSHA have any regulations that specifically target onshore drilling.
OSHA officials claim that this will change, that the agency will review the oil and gas industry’s exemption from safety rules that had been implemented in 1992 after several explosions occurred at chemical plants and refineries. At present, the agency has just 95 inspectors for the purpose of overseeing safety for all of the oil field sites in Texas. Of these inspectors, few have significant experience inspecting oil and gas locations. More concerning, even when inspectors find a life-threatening condition, they don’t have the authority to shut down the site because it is under the jurisdiction of the Texas Railroad Commission.
Clearly much needs to be done in order to make oil and gas fields safer for Texas workers. While injured employees may be able to claim workers compensation payments, that is small consideration for the serious and possibly permanent — and preventable — injuries that they could suffer.
If you or a loved one has suffered due to an injury in a workplace accident that was caused by a third party, you may be entitled to compensation, including medical expenses, loss of wages, and pain and suffering. The experienced San Antonio personal injury attorneys at Carabin & Shaw may be able to help. Call our office for more information at 1-800-862-1260.