Articles Posted in Oil and Gas Accidents

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explosion-1379408In Oiltanking Houston, LP v. Delgado, an employee of an independent contractor hired to work on a pipe by Oiltanking died in an explosion. He was welding a flange on a 24-inch pipe used to transport crude oil. Hydrocarbon fumes ignited, and an explosion occurred, killing the employee and injuring two others.

The employee’s family sued Oiltanking, the owner of the premises and the hirer of the independent contractor, for wrongful death. The victims also sued for personal injuries.

At trial, testimony was provided about the procedures used, the aspects of the process that Oiltanking controlled versus the aspects controlled by the independent contractor, and the events that led up to the explosion. Under Chapter 33 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code, Oiltanking designated the independent contractor as the responsible third party. However, the judge struck the designation when the evidence closed. Due to this, the jury was asked whether Oiltanking’s negligence was the legal cause of the explosion.

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oilfield-pumpjack-silhouette-1470602In Cerny v. Marathon Oil Corporation, a couple sued an oil corporation and others for private nuisance and negligence claims. They said that toxic emissions from the companies’ oil and gas operations near their home had caused injuries to their health and property.

The case arose when the couple moved into a fixer-upper in 2002. They leased mineral rights in their land to the predecessor of the oil corporation defendant. Subsequently, the defendant was authorized to use the surface of their land for oil and gas operations and to drill horizontal wells. The defendant didn’t put wellheads or infrastructure on the couple’s property, and they received consistent royalty payments.

In 2013, they sued the oil corporation and another party, alleging that they were negligent in their oilfield operations and these operations worsened existing health problems and caused new ones. Due to the oilfield operations, their property wound up with sink holes, and their home’s foundation was damaged. Their property was also surrounded by other wells and production facilities owned by the defendants, and these radically changed their rural lifestyle. They pled negligence, negligence per se, gross negligence, and private nuisance.

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_MG_9271Diamond Offshore Services Limited v. Williams is a Jones Act case that arose when the plaintiff injured his back while trying to fix machinery on an offshore oil rig operated by a Texas defendant in Egypt. The plaintiff was a mechanic who had worked for the defendant two different times and in different capacities for about a decade.

One afternoon, before he was scheduled to come back to the U.S., a driller told him that the elevators had failed and he needed to repair them. He worked on the elevators for 30-40 minutes. He bent at the waist to scoot the elevators, which weighed hundreds of pounds, into his work area. While working, he felt a sharp lower back pain. When he was done, he saw a doctor who told him to rest. The next day, he felt back discomfort when bending in his bed.

The man’s back continued to hurt when he got home, and the defendant referred him to an orthopedic surgeon whom he saw 10 days later. The orthopedic surgeon was independent but had seen patients off and on for the defendant. The man told the doctor that he hurt his back on a rig in 2006, two years before the incident at issue in this case, and that he had leg pain.

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oil-refinery-at-dusk-1319022-m-2In the recent Texas appellate case of In re Wyatt Field Service Company, the court considered whether a new trial was warranted in connection with two plaintiffs’ serious personal injuries that arose from a refinery accident. At the refinery, crude oil is turned into gasoline. Tar is a byproduct of the process. The tar is broken down into pure carbon by a flexicoker unit. The carbon is called “coke.” The coke is heated and returned as a source of heat for the reactor.

Exxon Mobil performs maintenance on the flexicoker unit every two or three years. As part of the process, the heater has to be cooled down through spray from nozzles. The coke builds up in the nozzles and clogs them. The spray nozzles are replaced with dummy nozzles. The worker must pull the dummy nozzle out, and an Exxon Mobil employee closes the gate valve to keep steam and coke inside. Two employees of LWL, Inc. were removing the dummy nozzles in 2011, when one came out too far and the gate was not shut. Coke and steam were sprayed on them, causing burn injuries.

Later, Exxon Mobil investigated and found that the safety chain was in the wrong location and that Wyatt had reattached the safety chain in a previous maintenance session. The two employees of LWL sued Wyatt and ExxonMobil. ExxonMobil settled, so the trial proceeded only against Wyatt as the defendant. Continue reading →

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oil-refinery-at-dusk-1319022-m.jpgAt a time when onshore oil and gas drilling continues to rise, many questions remain unanswered about the safety of “fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing, a method of oil extraction that has grown increasingly popular.

Hydraulic fracturing is a method used in Texas and across the United States to access oil in onshore areas where it would otherwise be too difficult to drill. The process involves injecting high-pressure fluid into a well bore in order to create small fractures in deep rock formations. The small fractures then allow oil or gas to escape and reach the well. The hydraulic fracturing method was first used in 1947, and it has since spread widely across the country. Many proponents of the method praise the fact that it allows the United States to continue to produce domestic energy despite earlier beliefs that there were very few reachable oil reserves remaining.

At the same time, critics of hydraulic fracturing claim that it poses a threat both to the environment and nearby communities, and to the oil and gas workers themselves. One area of concern is the type of chemicals used in the high-pressure solution. While proponents of the method claim that chemicals are just a tiny percentage of the overall solution, the fact is that significant chemicals are still being used. Yet the companies with the most hydraulic fracturing wells have failed to disclose at least one chemical used in the process, making it impossible to get an accurate sense of the method’s effect on the groundwater that it comes in contact with, and therefore on its community impact. Still, several communities located near hydraulic fracturing wells have complained that their water was contaminated by fracturing fluid. At least Texas is one of five states that require public records on any fluid spills.

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oil-pumps-752981-m.jpgRecent 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.

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Thumbnail image for oil picture.jpgOn December 7, 2013, a jury in South Texas found that Heckmann Water Resources Inc., an oil patch supplier near San Antonio, Texas, negligently failed to maintain a tractor-trailer truck that caused the death of Carlos Aguilar. The lawsuit stems from a May 2012 accident in which Aguilar, a U.S. Army veteran, husband, and father of seven, was doing work at the Eagle Ford Shale oilfield when a drive shaft broke off from under a Heckmann tractor-trailer traveling at 67 mph. The 20-pound part crashed through the windshield of the pickup truck that Aguilar was riding in, killing him.

Aguilar’s family filed suit against Heckmann and one if its employees, alleging that Heckmann failed to properly maintain the tractor-trailer. The jury ultimately found the company negligent and awarded Aguilar’s family (his parents, wife, and seven children) $281 million, which included $181 in compensatory damages and $100 million in punitive damages against Heckmann. The jury did not find Heckmann’s employee negligent. Heckmann’s Scottsdale, Arizona-based parent company, Nuverra Environmental Solutions, plans to appeal the decision. The verdict is one of the largest verdicts in Texas history.

Texas is by far the largest producer of crude oil and natural gas in the United States. In addition, the Eagle Shale Ford area continues to grow. There are currently 265 oil rigs operating in Eagle Ford Shale, compared to only 158 operating rigs in 2010. This means more oilfield workers and likely more accidents both at the oilfield rig and in and around the area involving trucks transporting supplies. In fact, according to the Texas Department of Transportation, the largest recent jumps in fatal traffic accidents are those involving commercial vehicles.

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Navigating Work Place Injuries

With more and more drilling activity occurring across the Eagle Ford Shale and the economy doing better here in San Antonio, we are seeing more and more individuals injured on construction sites, work sites and oil well drilling sites.

Workplace injuries and deaths make up a large part of litigation handled by many personal injury attorneys. According to the United States Secretary of Labor, every year nearly 4 million people suffer a workplace injury, from which some never recover.

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Thumbnail image for oil picture.jpgThe 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, considered one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history, stemmed from an oil rig explosion that killed 11 rig workers and injured 17. While this event received a great deal of media attention due to the devastating environmental damage it caused, it is important to remember that the oil and gas industry accounts for hundreds of deaths, explosions, fires, and spills in the United States each year, many of which go largely unnoticed. By 2016, oil and gas production in Texas is expected to reach an all-time high, mainly due to an increase in oil and gas drilling. While increased gas production means an increase in jobs, it also means that more workers are subject to injury.

In fact, according to a 2010 report by the National Wildlife Federation, Texas ranked first in the top states for pipeline accidents, with 523 significant incidents, 15 fatalities and 60 injuries reported from 2000 to 2010 in Texas alone. In South Texas, one in five fatalities investigated by OSHA in the past decade was at an oil and gas company. According to a February 26, 2013 article focusing on Eagle Ford Shale in the San Antonio Express-News:

-11 worker deaths in the Eagle Ford Shale since 2009;
-35 fatality investigations in Texas by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration since 2009; and
-4,100 drilling permits issued in 2012
The article notes that according to OSHA investigations, federal inspectors found safety violations at the site of every fatality and “often concluded that companies had not taken adequate steps to keep their workers safe.” Michael Rivera, area director for OSHA’s Corpus Christi office, which monitors most of the Eagle Ford Shale region south of San Antonio, stated that although he sees many people working hard to keep things safe, there are also those who just don’t and instead take shortcuts to maximize costs.

Notably, injuries and fatalities are not confined to accidents occurring on oil and gas rigs. Although OSHA does not investigate transportation accidents on public roads, the article emphasizes that 40 oil and gas workers in Texas died while traveling to and from work from 2009 to 2011. In addition, a 2013 study published by the Accident Analysis & Prevention Journal, based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, found that oil and gas workers are 8.5 times more likely to die in a motor vehicle crash while on the job than those in other businesses, possibly due to the long hours worked by oilfield workers and the treacherous roadways these workers must navigate to get to isolated work locations, including Eagle Ford Shale. In fact, according to Kyle Retzer, lead author of the study and a program coordinator with Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 202 oil and gas extraction workers died in motor vehicle accidents while on the job between 2003 and 2009.

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704593_derrick sxchu username nadij.jpgAccording to a report published by environmental watch group Earthworks, state regulators across the nation are placing Americans at risk by failing to properly inspect oil and gas wells. The report, titled Breaking All the Rules, examined regulatory data collected in six states: Colorado, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

The Earthworks research report claims most states do not have the resources or equipment necessary to adequately inspect every active oil and gas well within the state on a regular basis. For example, Pennsylvania guidelines suggest each active oil and gas well should be inspected five times per year. Instead, 91 percent of active wells were not inspected in 2010. According to the report, that means about 82,000 oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania were not examined by state regulators that year. In Colorado, 15 state inspectors were reportedly tasked with inspecting more than 16,000 wells in 2010. In New Mexico, 12 inspectors allegedly conducted a total of 20,780 reviews during the same year.

The report states oil and gas well safety violations are also poorly tracked. In both New Mexico and Colorado, comprehensive violation information is not available to the public. Instead, data is reportedly maintained on a well-by-well basis. Additionally, inspectors are reportedly free to determine whether an unsatisfactory well merits a violation. The group contends that companies who fail to adhere to health, safety, and environmental rules are rarely punished.

In the State of Texas, inspectors purportedly conducted more than 118,000 inspections and noted almost 56,000 violations in fiscal year 2012. Still, Earthworks maintains that action against oil and gas well operators is frequently deferred and financial penalties are often small. Patrick Creighton, a spokesperson for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an oil and gas production company consortium, called the Earthworks report into question. According to Creighton, the report is false and contrary to publicly available facts. He alleged Earthworks published the report in an effort to spread fear about the safety of the oil and gas industry.

Oil and gas workers are placed at risk whenever an oil company fails to adhere to proper safety regulations. Oil and well drilling accidents can be extremely complicated and the process for obtaining damages for any resulting injuries is often tough to navigate. If you or a family member was hurt as a result of an oil and gas company’s negligence, you should speak with a skilled oil and gas accident attorney as soon as possible.

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