How Do You Prevent Chemical Work Injury in Bakken Drilling Operations?

From 2003 to 2010, OSHA recorded 823 work injury deaths in the oil and gas extraction industry. Hazards ranging from chemical exposure to vehicle accidents were responsible for a fatality rate seven times higher than all other industries. Over half of the fatalities were to short-service workers on the job less than a year.

It is difficult to know what is going on in the many small sites of the Bakken region. Nevertheless, the best way to prevent injury is to design a safety program around the particular operation. Knowing what to look for is the key to prevention. A hazard that is common in all Bakken drilling and flowback sites is harmful levels of chemical substances.

Chemical and Toxic Hazards

Depending on the operation, oil and gas workers in the Bakken face exposure to a variety of hazardous substances.

Well gases such as hydrogen sulfide (sour gas) can cause fluid in the lungs, knockdown or neurotoxicity, conjunctivitis, irritability, nausea, fatigue and weight loss. Exposure to levels over 500 ppm is fatal. Volatile organic compounds above propane have an anesthetic effect. Methane poisoning and asphyxiation can occur from exposure to the light hydrocarbons in well gas.

Bakken Crude Oil contains the carcinogenic, benzene. Acute exposure can cause difficulty in breathing, dizziness, headaches, nausea and confusion while chronic exposure can damage lungs, kidneys and the liver, suppress the immune system, disrupt hormone levels, cause gene mutations, cancer and blood disorders. Some polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in crude oil are also hazardous.

Chemical additives for Bakken operations also include hazardous substances. Oil field sites have high concentration of harmful raw chemicals including biocides, corrosives, flammable friction reducers, and eye, nose, skin and lung irritants. Drilling and shale formations also emit toxic substances and hydraulic fluids contain a small percentage..

So how can Bakken operations minimize injury from toxic material? Setting up controls relative to the hazard present and requiring the use of personal protective equipment is necessary. Authorities should confirm proper use of engineering and administrative controls and ensure that material safety data sheets are on site.

Bakken operators should perform chemical suspect monitoring and analysis, watch for oil and gas contaminant suspects, repair leaks promptly, locate safety showers and eye washes nearby and train workers on chemical hazards and how to respond in an emergency.

Please contact us if you or a loved one have a workplace injury caused by chemical exposure.