Workplace Injury From Hazardous Vapor And Gas Exposure In The Bakken

In the Bakken, workplace injury due to vapor and gas exposure is among the risks that workers face at oil and gas extraction sites. According to recent NIOSH and OSHA research, opening production, flow-back other tank thief hatches to collect or manually gauge fluids can release dangerous levels of hydrocarbon gases and vapors that may result in loss of consciousness and death.

In fact, NIOSH and OSHA reported that nine workers died between 2010 and 2014 while manually gauging or sampling production tanks is oil and gas production sites including some in the Bakken.

Working close to oil and gas production tanks, in the Bakken and other sites, is particularly concerning since tanks may hold concentrated gases and vapors under pressure. Besides exposing workers to pressurized gases and vapors when they open the thief hatch, the released gases displace oxygen producing an oxygen-deficient environment. Furthermore, when concentrations exceed 10% of the lower explosive limit (LEL), there is greater likelihood for fire and explosions.

Around the Bakken, factors which increase exposure to hydrocarbon vapors, gases and LEL situations include the produced fluid and reservoir components, for example, gas to oil ratio in fluids. In addition there are operational and task-related issues like flowback operations, not isolating tanks before opening hatches and maintenance work. Environment conditions such as weather inversions, low wind speeds and elevated temperature and altitude enhance exposure risk.

Conversely, companies can minimize worker exposure to hydrocarbon gas and vapor in Bakken oil and gas production sites by establishing engineering controls including automatic or remote sampling and gauging, tank sampling taps, pressure indicators for thief hatches, and blowdown valves. Ensuring that employees work upwind away from open hatches lowers exposure risk and wearing Person Protective Equipment (PPE) such as respiratory protection, flame retardant clothing and impermeable gloves also improve worker safety.

Please contact us for more information on safety issues in the Bakken.