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Articles Posted in Oil and Gas Accidents

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On 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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The 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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According 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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In early August, more than four thousand residents of the area surrounding a Richmond, California oil refinery were taken to local hospitals for exposure to unknown quantities of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide following a fire at the facility. According to federal investigators, the explosion and resulting fire at the Chevron refinery was likely caused by a corroded pipe the company failed to replace following a safety inspection last fall. In addition to the smoke cloud that sent thousands to the hospital, more than one dozen workers were allegedly placed in harm’s way by the explosion.

A representative from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board stated the incident at the refinery began after a worker noticed a leak in one of the pipes. After the insulation surrounding the pipe was removed for inspection, a large vapor cloud reportedly formed. When workers realized the cloud had formed, they immediately left the area which ignited soon after. A similar incident occurred at the same facility in 1999. In response to the most recent explosion and fire, Chevron has set up an injury claim hotline.

Despite numerous federal safety regulations, the explosion was just one of multiple recent refinery fires across the nation. For example, an early morning explosion and fire at a west Tulsa refinery owned by HollyFrontier Corporation awoke residents of the surrounding community on August 2nd. Although flames were apparently visible from six miles away, no injuries were reported. The cause of that fire is currently under investigation.

The California and Oklahoma refinery fires occurred less than one month after British Petroleum (BP) agreed to pay approximately $13 million in penalties for worker health and safety risks at the company’s Texas City oil refinery. In a follow-up investigation, the nation’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued 270 failure-to-abate notices for more than 400 process safety management violations after the agency learned BP did not correct many of the hazardous conditions that led to a refinery explosion that killed 15 workers in March 2005. According to Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis, the BP settlement was designed to establish a culture of safety at the company’s Texas City refinery. Additionally, she said the goal of the agreement was to save the lives of refinery workers.

Clearly, both employees and nearby residents of oil refineries are placed at risk whenever a big oil company such as Chevron or BP fails to exercise proper safety measures. Oil refinery accidents can be extremely complicated and the process for obtaining compensation for any resulting injuries can be difficult to navigate. If you or a loved one was injured as a result of an oil company’s negligence, you should contact a capable oil and gas accident lawyer as soon as you are able.

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