The boom in natural gas in West Virginia has brought prosperity to some previously deprived parts of the state. However, as the industry booms more workers are paying the ultimate price by losing the lives on the job, according to new figures.
Statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics found 13 workers in the state’s oil and gas industry died during the five-year period from 2008 to 2012. The figure is alarming because it’s more than double the number of workers who lost their lives during the previous five-year period from 2004 to 2008 when five workers died, according to the bureau.
The Charleston Gazette reported the rise in worker deaths comes at a time when natural gas production in West Virginia has also more than doubled. The increase in deaths coincides with a rush to tap into the Marcellus Shale reserves. Oil and gas extraction activities also more than doubled in that time, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
West Virginia is not alone in paying for the increase in production in lives. Other states that are playing their part in America’s energy boom such as Texas, North Dakota and Pennsylvania have seen increases in worker fatalities, according to the Houston Chronicle.
As a West Virginia injury lawyer I find this trend troubling. It suggests these industries are not putting adequate resources into protecting their workers. The Chronicle reported a decline in deaths in just one state, Wyoming, the only one of eight major states to tap into the energy boom to have “engaged in a sustained state-sponsored effort to reduce workplace fatalities.”
The figures have sparked calls to the Obama administration to launch an initiative to prevent major industry disasters and to address safety problems in the fast-growing oil and gas business.
As well as deaths in the oil and gas industry, worker injuries occur regularly. Last year a fire at an Antero Resource’s natural gas drilling site in Doddridge County, West Virginia injured eight workers.
The Charleston Gazette reported the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration is considering expanding its “process safety management,” or PSM, rule, which requires employers to anticipate potential accident scenarios and take steps to avoid such incidents before they occur. OSHA is considering eliminating the PSM rule exemptions for oil and gas drilling and servicing, and for production facilities.
In a letter to OSHA, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board argued that the exemptions for oil and gas industry sites should be eliminated from the PSM rule.
The CSB said its own review discovered 1,285 incidents oil and gas installations between 2009 and February 2014 that resulted in injuries to workers, deaths, evacuation, damage of more than $500,000 to the facilities or “acute environmental damage.”
A separate report suggests the arrival of oil and gas extraction (known as fracking) industries, increase fatalities on roads around sites.
An analysis of traffic deaths and census data in six drilling states found in some places, “fatalities have more than quadrupled since 2004 — a period when most American roads have become much safer even as the population has grown,” stated Associated Press.
Oil and gas extraction has brought increased prosperity to parts of West Virginia but at a high price. The workers in these industries do a valiant job but clearly face danger on a regular basis.