Death in the Oil and Gas Fields

injuries on Colorado oil and gas job sitesI recently came across an article from the Denver Post discussing the deaths of three oil and gas workers in Colorado. I know that these worksites are very dangerous, but what seems to be occurring at these sites is not only confusing but also alarming.

The article starts off mentioning that last year a 51 year old man died while on an oil well, according to the coroner because of heart disease. However, it soon became clear that this was not the only death on an oil field where similar circumstances existed. Along with this death in Colorado, there have been eight other oil field deaths over the past five years, raising alarm at the CDC. All of the deaths occurred at crude oil production tanks. Three of the deaths were in Colorado, three in North Dakota, and one each in Texas, Montana, and Oklahoma.

What Happened?

After some investigation by federal health officials it began to become clear that these men had died after inhaling toxic amounts of hydrocarbon chemicals after either tank gauging or from taking samples of oil for testing. Tank gauging is when you measure the level of oil or other byproducts in the tanks coming out of a well.

According to the article, when the worker unlocks the hatch on the production tanks manually the hydrocarbon gases and vapors are then released under high pressure. These gases and vapors include known carcinogens. Breathing in a high concentration of hydrocarbons has been known to cause dizziness, asphyxiation, and even sudden death. According to the CDC, when you inhale hydrocarbons you can suffer from cardiac arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat.

What’s Happening?

According to the article, the CDC and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have notified others about the hazards of tank gauging just this spring. Those organizations, along with the oil and gas industry, recently came up with recommendations including:

  • Providing training of the proper use of respiratory protection
  • Implementing engineering controls (such as remote gauging and venting)

Additionally, the article mentions that oil and gas sites are exempt from many OSHA rules, even though the industry is considered one of the most hazardous in the country. A November 2014  article from Environment & Energy Publishing covers drilling safety exemptions and its history. In the article the author discusses how OSHA had for many years been trying to tighten the rules regarding the oil and gas industry, and in fact proposed new rules back in 1983. The rules were never implemented and OSHA gave up on them back in 2001.

Furthermore, the Denver Post article mentions how the national occupational fatality rate in the oil and gas industry was 7 times higher than general industry between 2005 and 2009.

This is some disturbing news, but I hope as always that employees will do what is necessary to maintain a safe work environment for their own safety and that employers will ensure they do what needs to be done to ensure their workers’ safety.

For information on Colorado Workers’ Comp Laws

Check out our blog on mining violations


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