Accidental deaths rising during Texas oil boom
Texas had half of the country's oil field deaths last year - 71 of the 142 workers who died in the hunt for hydrocarbons, new data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Texas Department of Insurance indicate.
In the five years between 2010 and 2014, 615 U.S. oil field workers died. Of those, 270, or 44%, were in Texas.
In Texas, workers have been hit by falling equipment, thrown, crushed, burned, electrocuted. They fell. They were scalded. They were run over. They were victims of human error and equipment failures.
Most of the accidents occurred in the heart of the Eagle Ford Shale, the 400-mile-long formation discovered in 2008. La Salle County had the most deaths - eight, including three workers in a single explosion last year, the region's most deadly catastrophe.
In San Antonio, north of the Eagle Ford, a worker was crushed when 3,500 pounds of sand for hydraulic fracturing, held in a super sack (a giant duffle bag used for transportation) toppled onto him.
The region's actual death toll is higher than 34. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) open investigations for recent accidents aren't available yet to the public.
The number of deaths rose alongside the sheer volume of activity in Texas. The worst accident this year killed three members of the same family in Upton County in West Texas.
They died in an inferno while working to install a blowout preventer, which seals, controls, and monitors a well.
OSHA recently proposed $50,400 in penalties and cited their employer, Mason Well Service, for several violations, including allowing smoking near the well.
Federal investigators often find safety violations at the site of a worker death, but there's only so much OSHA can do to penalize a company.
In 1991, Congress set the cap at $7,000 for a serious violation and $70,000 for a willful violation. It is a rare citation when it can be proved that a company intentionally disregarded safety requirements. The violation cap amounts have not been increased.
Penalties often get whittled down. OSHA may agree to settlements after companies protest, or mitigating factors are taken into account.
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