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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