How Bakken Oil Companies' Risky Practices Contribute to High Rate of Fatal Oil Field Injuries

Anyone employed in a construction trade will be quick to share the dangers of the occupation. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics places fatality rates among construction workers at the top of the list for American workers, ahead of transportation and warehousing; agriculture, farming, fishing and hunting; government workers; professional and business services; and even law enforcement. Nonetheless, are some of the fatal injuries among construction workers in the Bakken oil fields preventable? A recent investigative report says yes, and it places the blame directly in the laps of the big oil companies that employ those workers.

It comes as no surprise to most that oil field injuries, including fatalities, among construction workers employed in the Bakken occur at a high rate, with 71 fatalities reported from 2006 through 2014. What does come as a surprise to many, however, given the dangerous nature of the work, is the low level of outside oversight of the oil drilling enterprise in the Bakken, which many believe is responsible for at least some of the fatalities recorded over the last 10 years.

A recent national feature goes so far as to call North Dakota's oil boom a "serial killer", saying, "Big oil companies have largely written the rules governing their own accountability for accidents, potentially putting workers at risk." The investigative piece cites two problems with the way the big oil companies in the Bakken operate as the main causes of risky practices leading to unnecessary oil field injuries and fatalities.

First, companies pay out large daily bonuses as financial incentives to construction workers drilling wells who complete work quickly. In an effort to make more money for the risky work that they do, some construction workers in the field are likely to cut corners when it comes to safety to maximize personal gains. This puts not only the individual in question in jeopardy but all of those working with him as well.

Second, big oil companies contract out some work, such as attempting to make a well produce more oil, to smaller companies. This means that some liability for any injuries sustained by workers under the employ of one of these smaller contractors falls on the insurance companies of those contractors rather than by the large oil company that hired the contractor. This leaves little financial incentive for the larger companies to prioritize safety for workers. The smaller contractors are often hesitant to voice safety concerns since they can easily be replaced by other small contractors, and such lucrative contracts with the big oil companies can mean the difference between remaining profitable or going belly up.

Unfortunately, many of those worried about the continuously rising toll of oil field injuries in the Bakken will not cease unless stronger government regulations pass, taking the responsibility for oversight of safety practices out of the hands of those who many feel have the very most to gain from relaxing those practices.

To talk more about those affected by Bakken oil field injuries, please contact us. Thank you.