Concern Over Increased Bakken Oil Field Fatalities

A March 12, 2015, Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article reports that, from October 2014 to February 2015, at least eight deaths occurred in the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota. This represented more deaths than in the previous 12 months combined.

In fact, the WSJ reports that North Dakota now has the highest workplace fatality rate in the United States. Some see a connection between the declining number of active drilling rigs and a rise in death rates. Officials caution that it is still too early to make a definitive connection, however.

Economic Pressures to Compromise Safety

Nonetheless, federal safety officials have expressed concern that the rapid pull-back in drilling activity related to dropping crude-oil prices may actually lead to an increase in oil field accidents and/or fatalities. The reasoning is that the plunge in oil company profits may result in questionable cost-cutting practices that could compromise safety.

OSHA's director of its Bismarck office told the WSJ that companies are sometimes tempted to hire lower-cost, inexperienced contractors to preserve profit margins. Reports of payments to certain contractors being cut by 20 percent or more elevate the level of concern.

Safety personnel have also cited an increased incidence of elementary safety violations. For example, there have been a number of incidents in which workers brought heaters and other motorized equipment into enclosed spaces where flammable vapors are often present. This might result in a fire.

Potentially Positive Outcomes

At the same time, he noted that some companies were actively taking measures to address worker safety concerns since the downturn in crude oil prices. Unnamed oil execs also surmised that the precipitous decline in oil prices may actually improve worker safety in the long-term by eliminating inexperienced rig operators.

Our firm represents the interests of Bakken oil field workers injured or killed in the workplace. We offer a complimentary consultation to those adversely impacted by oil field accidents. For more information, please contact us.

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