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