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Houston Chronicle Investigation Discovers On-Shore Drilling & Fracking Regulation Issues

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Sarah Kim4 years ago

According to an investigation by the Houston Chronicle, the federal government has failed to ensure the safety of individuals working at on-shore drilling sites.

Houston Chronicle Investigation Discovers On-Shore Drilling & Fracking Regulation Issues

According to the investigative piece, the government has not properly inspected the potentially improper practices of many oil and gas companies, nor has it properly implemented sufficient safety procedures.

In 2007, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board said that one of America's most dangerous workplaces is onshore oil fields.

Although there has been a great deal of media attention to off-shore drilling since the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in 2010, less has been said about the regulation of on-shore drilling sites.

After the spill, there was an increase in the number of specialized inspectors. Existing oil and gas safety rules were also tightened.  R. Dean Wingo, a recent retiree a Texas-based assistant regional administrator for the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), emphasized this lack of attention in his remark that “when 60 workers die one at a time, no one pays any attention.” OSHA does not have any regulations specific to oil and gas.

Wingo also stated that offshore drilling is “a lot safer than onshore,” because the things we see in land drilling were eliminated years ago offshore. This includes the use of outdated technology.

For 22 years, the federal government has not implemented safety standards and procedures for onshore oil and gas drilling.

Death and Serious Injuries Reported

In 2012, 79 people lost limbs, 82 were crushed, 92 suffered burns and 675 broke bones in work-related accidents reported to insurance carriers.

In addition, the 65 deaths recorded in 2012 was a 10-year high and almost 60 percent more fatalities than in 2011.

According to the Houston Chronicle and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Texas accounted for about 40% of the 663 workers killed nationwide in oil field-related industries between 2007 and 2012.

Government Officials’ Response
  • Officials with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration responded that they view oil field fatalities as a high priority, and that it will review the industry's exemption on detailed safety rules developed in 1992.
  • However, OSHA only has 95 inspectors, few of which have oil and gas related experience or training, and inspectors cannot shut down a drilling rig or site if life-threatening conditions exist.
  • Although the Texas Railroad Commission monitors oil field fires and blowouts and has the authority to shut down operations, it doesn't coordinate with OSHA. Commission spokeswoman Ramona Nye told the paper that the Texas Railroad Commission does not focus on worker safety.
  • William Reilly, a former Environmental Protection Agency administrator, stated that because so few land-based oil field accidents are investigated, it would be difficult to launch an investigation like the one he led to examine the Deepwater oil spill.
  • Moreover, the mobile nature of work sites inhibits inspectors’ abilities to find and investigate.


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