No shale-related deaths in over a year

07 22, 2012 by Shreveport Times

Not long after the frenzied rush began in 2008 to extract natural gas from the Haynesville Shale, so did the frequency of injuries and fatalities at rig drilling sites and pipeline locations.

Industry experts were not surprised. With thousands of workers flocking to northwest Louisiana, their sheer numbers coupled with the hazardous nature of the job put the occupation in the high risk category.

Three men died in oil- and gas-related accidents in 2009. Two more were added in 2010. Only one succumbed in 2011.

Dozens more suffered life-altering injuries, including limb amputations and head wounds, while emergency response crews also responded to endless calls about heart attacks and assorted other illnesses on the job sites. The exact toll on human life may never be fully counted.

But as the shale development slowed, so did the fatalities and injuries. No shale-related deaths have been reported in more than a year.

The most recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics released in August indicate the 2010 census of fatal work injuries in the private mining industry, which includes oil and gas extraction, rose from 99 in 2009 to 172 in 2010, an increase of 74 percent.

Fatal work injuries were sharply higher in mining activities other than oil and gas (up 110 percent) and in support activities for mining (up 71 percent).

Multiple-fatality incidents in this industry were a major factor in the increased fatality total in mining. The Upper Big Branch mining disaster claimed 29 workers, and 11 workers died in the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion.

For extraction workers, fatalities numbered 59 in 2009 and 91 in 2010.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration, the federal agency under the U.S. Labor Department’s umbrella that probes workplace safety, has investigated all of the fatality incidents in northwest Louisiana. Some companies received citations while others didn’t.

In November 2010, The Times reported:

Trinidad Drilling was cited in August 2010 for two “serious” safety violations in connection with the February 2010 death of Noe Falcon, 24, of Rio Grande City, Texas, who died of a head injury suffered at a natural gas drilling location in south Caddo Parish. A $9,000 fine was recommended.

Citations also were issued to Siler Operations and Innovative Wellsite Systems in the November 2009 death of James Dennis, 58, of Bullard, Texas, but the final report was not completed. Dennis, an employee of Dynasty Transportation LLC and coworker Jimmy Siler, 30, were caught in the path of a natural gas well blowout near Grand Cane. Siler was seriously injured.

No citations were issued in the first shale-related death of Jonathan Brazzel, 26, of Shreveport, a supervisor for L&S Testing, Inc., who died in February 2009 after being struck in the head when pressurized tubing broke during a shutdown procedure at a Stonewall well site. OSHA did not issue citations because Brazzel was classified as an independent contractor who worked for himself.

The investigation was still ongoing in the death of Bobby Joe Dickerson, 60, of Logansport, an employee of Scandrill Inc., who died in September 2009 when he was struck by a pipe and fell through the V-door at a natural gas drilling site near Logansport.

Last month, the newspaper made another public records request of OSHA seeking an update to the investigations in addition to information on deaths occurring since late 2010.

That inquiry resulted in the following responses:

Falcon — Case is closed. Trinidad Drilling paid $4,500.

Dickerson — Case is closed. Scandrill paid $2,700.

Jimmie Lenard, 51, of Shreveport, an employee of Bronco Drilling Co., suffered chemical burns in June 2010 at a natural gas drilling location in Red River Parish and died in July 2010. Case is closed. Bronco paid $6,400.

Michael Tartt, 47, of Choudrant, worked for TGGT Holding, died during a natural gas pipeline explosion in Red River Parish in May 2011. Case is closed. Company cited for $7,938 in fines, paid $2,400.

The amounts of the proposed penalties and the actual amount paid differ as a result of the informal settlement agreements, said Elizabeth Todd with OSHA’s regional office in Dallas. OSHA uses various factors when deciding if a citation and fine are warranted.

A “willful citation” is given when an employer exhibits “plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee safety and health.”

A “serious violation” is one in which there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known, Todd said.

A “repeat violation” is issued when an employer has been cited previously for the same or similar violation of a standard, regulation, rule or order at any other facility in federal enforcement states within the past five years.

An “other than serious violation” is one that has a direct relationship to job safety and health but probably would not cause death or serious physical harm.