In early 2016,
National Public Radio (NPR) reported on a series of mysterious deaths in U.S. oilfields over
a six-year period.
The death of a 21-year-old worker in the Bakken region in January 2012
was one of those fatalities. One part of the worker's job was to climb
up to the top of a crude oil storage tank, open the hatch and drop a rope
into the tank to measure the oil level. It was the last thing he did,
because a co-worker later found him dead, laying next to the open hatch.
No Citations, No Fines
An autopsy revealed various hydrocarbons, including benzene and butane,
in the man's blood. However, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration
(OSHA), which investigates every workplace fatality, did not find any
safety violations, and the oil company involved did not face any fines.
Eight Similar Deaths
Ultimately, an investigative journalist working with Dr. Bob Harrison,
a specialist in occupational and environmental medicine, uncovered a pattern
of nine oil workers that mysteriously died in
oil field accidents over the previous six years. Like the individual profiled, a number of
them were healthy young workers.
Dr. Harrison believes each worker passed out after being overcome by petroleum
gases escaping from open hatches. Although the procedure is dangerous
and even deadly, the process of manually dropping a rope into a tank is
a cost-effective way the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has found to
accurately measure oil recovered on public lands. Accurate measurements
are important since royalties accrue for every barrel of oil extracted.
Automation Allegedly Too Expensive
Automated oil measurement methods exist, but the estimated cost is $2,000
per tank. A spokesperson for the BLM says that the cost is too prohibitive
for many companies involved in operating some of the 83,000 oil wells
situated on federal land. An oil and gas safety trainer interviewed for
the NPR article says that worker exposure to deadly gases is an avoidable
hazard. Automatic measurement is the norm in areas not regulated by the
Bureau of Land Management, such as offshore and in Canada.
State worker's compensation laws address workplace injuries and fatalities.
In some cases, personal injury statutes apply as well. If you or a family
member is a victim of a Bakken oilfield accident, it is possible to discuss
your case with us, free of charge and without obligation. Our firm fights
hard to preserve the full legal rights of our clients. To learn more, please