Is a Joint Alert on Oil field Injury from Hydrocarbon Inhalation Way Overdue?

Saying many in the industry are unaware of the risks of fatal oil field injury from inhaling hydrocarbons, industry-safety organizations and federal agencies plan to publish a joint alert shortly. According to some agency and safety-industry officials, the gas and oil industry has ignored warning signs and resisted putting steps in place to lessen workers’ risk.

Federal officials lack enforcement authority and oil companies operating in the Bakken and other regions are exempt from many OSHA standards including handling potential hydrocarbon exposure.

Documentation in nine worker fatalities from 2010 to 2014 shows that four workers were working on measuring oil levels in tanks or fracking byproducts while the other five were sampling oil for testing. In the Bakken fields, there were three deaths in North Dakota and one in Montana according to the Center for Disease Control which initially called attention to the problem last May.

Some experts believe that a recent public health directive worsened the problem. An EPA rule put into effect in 2012 requires that new oil-field tanks prevent venting of dangerous chemicals from within. As a result, there is a greater likelihood for pressure inside the tanks to escape at concentrated levels when workers open them.

Companies in the Bakken could follow the Canadian practice of reading tanks automatically or remotely to minimize or eliminate hazards. Dennis Schmitz, a safety consultant for oil companies in the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota feels that proper engineering should remove every hazard.

A panel of federal, industry safety officials and some oil company representatives recently showed Bakken oil workers an infrared image of a huge plume of chemicals escaping the top of a tank. The presenters emphasized the need to stand up wind of the otherwise invisible gas emitted when they open tank hatches.

Officials also stressed that workers should hold a four-gas monitoring tool over the top of the tank. However, after the educational session ended, several experts expressed their belief that the measures really do not solve the problem pointing out that “wind is not a reliable exposure control”.

Please contact us if you have concerns about an oil field injury from working in the Bakken.