Today’s oil rig work relies heavily on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which extracts deep reservoirs of oil and gas from shale, as in South Texas’ Eagle Ford Shale play. Such work can cause violent, traumatic injuries to gas and oil rig crews, as well as expose them to dangerous chemicals that can cause cancer.
Families whose loved ones have suffered from fracking have legal options they should exercise. These families can contact the Willis Law Firm to gain an experienced oil rig accident lawyer for their fracking injury case.
Fracking is a colloquial or slang term for hydraulic fracturing, a technique for releasing energy reserves trapped beneath the Earth’s surface. Since it became profitably applied in the early 1980s by Houston oilman George Mitchell, fracking has become routine among thousands of oil and gas wells and rigs across not just America, but the worl.
Often this involves drilling horizontally, not just vertically. Then millions of gallons of water are needed for each fracking operation — and is brought to rig sites by many 18-wheeler trucks.
Laced with sand and chemicals, the water is forced into the ground at high pressure in order to release the oil and gas within the shale rock and allow it to flow to the head of the well.The water pressure is what fractures the rock, which is why the process is called fracturing or “fracking.”
Unfortunately, this same pressure can lead to catastrophic explosions causing injuries and deaths to oil and gas rig crews, employees and personnel. Such pressures even are believed to cause fracking earthquakes, including in areas like Texas where earthquakes are not customary.
As for fracking explosions, these can occur when the extremely high pressure is suddenly released. Hoses can burst, or hammer couplings can strip out or be worn out, allowing hoses to break off under the high pressure and cause severe injuries.
For instance, one worker was killed and two others were injured — one severely — in a fracking explosion Nov. 13, 2014 in Weld County, Colorado. News reports indicated the men were trying to defrost a frozen high-pressure water valve which then ruptured at an enormous force.
Matthew Smith, 36, was dead at the scene. Thomas Sedlmayr suffered serious injuries, and Grant Casey suffered less serious injuries at the Anadarko Petroleum Corp. fracking site. All of the men were employees of Houston-based Halliburton, an energy corporation which was contracted to handle the fracking operations.
OSHA, or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is investigating the accident’s cause or causes.
Less than a month earlier, also in Colorado, Shane Hill, 34, was killed when he was hit in the head by a fitting which blew off a rig.
Workers also can be harmed by dangerous fracking chemicals such as Xylene, Toulene or benzene, a chemical compound that can cause cancer.
Workers’ exposure to chemicals such as benzene via fumes from tanks or liquid dermal exposure can cause AML Leukemia, leukemia cancer, Aplastic Anemia (AA), Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, myelodysplastic syndrome or myelodysplasia (MDS), multiple myeloma, bladder cancers, blood cancers and still more leukemias or cancers.
Though the water used in fracking operations contains small percentages of chemicals — between .5% and 2% of the fracturing fluid’s total volume — that doesn’t mean enormous amounts of chemicals aren’t involved in the process.
Indeed, the fluid volume of fracking operations is immense. An estimated three million to five million gallons of water are needed for each fracking job. Thus, even a small percentage of such volume can amount to a vast amount. For example, 80 to 330 tons of chemicals are needed for a four-million-gallon fracking process.
Many studies of fracking show the dangers of such chemical exposure. One study by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, an arm of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that workers involved in fracking operations can breathe dangerous levels of benzene, a carcinogen that is a colorless or light yellow liquid.
A component of crude oil, benzene can be acutely toxic to the liver, kidneys and nervous system in high concentrations. It can cause bone marrow to produce insufficient red blood cells, leading to anemia, and it can damage the immune system by altering blood levels of antibodies, resulting in the loss of white blood cells.
Benzene exposure can happen when workers must open hatches above rig sites several times per hour to inspect their “flowback” contents, including wastewater and chemicals used in fracking. During a 12-hour shift, a worker might open a hatch up to four times, breathing hazardous fumes for up to five minutes each time. This exposure could reach dangerous degrees.
Flowback is a phase of the gas or oil extraction process. After a well is drilled and then fracked, or hydraulically fractured, to initiate the flow of gas or oil, flowback fluid returns to the surface and is recovered via the well’s bore. It’s then separated into its component elements of sand, wastewater, gas, oil and fracking fluid chemicals.
Workers have to regularly examine and measure the volume of liquids in the flowback and production tanks by opening hatches and inserting a gauge stick. At this point, workers have a high danger of exposure to hazardous benzene levels.
NIOSH advises that workers’ benzene exposure be restricted to an average of 0.1 per million during a shift. However, NIOSH research found that, when opening hatches above tanks at well sites, workers were exposed to airborne benzene above that amount in 15 out of the 17 samples taken.
Another fracking hazard is exposure to crystalline silica via the sand involved in fracking operations. Such exposure can result in silicosis, a deadly lung disease, as well as lung cancer and additional respiratory injuries
Many gas and oil rig workers are endangered by exposure to benzene or other dangerous chemicals involved in fracking, or by explosions caused by the high pressures also involved in fracking.
More than half a million persons have worked on domestic oil and gas extraction operations in recent years, and over 50% of those worked for companies performing fracking and flowback operations.
The result, in part, accounts for some of the high fatality rate in the gas and oil industry. That fatality rate was 27.5 deaths per 100,000 workers from 2003 to 2009.
How bad was that? It was over seven times higher than the fatality rate for all workers in the U.S. Also, most of those deaths were due to oil or gas rig accidents or chemical exposure.
NIOSH advises reducing benzene threats by limiting its exposure, developing alternative tank gauging procedures and providing workers with respirators. But the energy industry itself has fought making changes to its already profitable operations.
If a member of your family has suffered injury or death while working on an oil or gas rig, particularly in fracking operations, get a fracking accident lawyer for your case. The Willis Law Firm has decades of experience helping injured Americans claim the payments they legally deserved after injuries due to another’s negligence.
By phone or by form, notify our law firm today for a free legal review of your case. Then you can decide if you want our help in claiming payments you and your family legally deserve for a fracking accident injury or death.
Get the Willis Law Firm. Get results. Get justice.