Mixing Oil, Gas, Machinery and Men – A Recipe for Potential Tragedy

by Terry Bryant

In a perfect world, companies would put the safety and security of their human resources and the environment over and above their corporate bottom lines.

But in case you haven’t guessed by now, we don’t live in a perfect world.

Take the Texas oil fields for instance. Yes, drilling for oil and gas is inherently dangerous. But something seems off kilter when fatal oil field accidents in Texas rose by 59 percent in the course of a single year (2011 to 2012) – and is now at a ten year high.

Of course there are existing rules and safety regulations in place, but the question is – are they sufficient and are they being followed?

Oil & Gas Industry Fights New OSHA Regulations – Calling Them Counterproductive and Unnecessary

The oil & gas Industries employ more than 450,000 workers. But even with an accident fatality rate seven times higher than the national average, it seems the big corporate players want nothing to do with increased scrutiny.

It seems at times these entities operate under a totally separate rule book from the rest of us. For example, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) guidelines mandate that manufacturing companies have extensive written procedures for preventing the accidental release of hazardous chemicals.

However, the oil & gas operations don’t comply – these requirements being waived specifically for them.

The large energy companies are basically saying they can police themselves – sort of like the foxes regulating the chicken coup. “Trust us,” they say (Does the BP Gulf Oil Spill ring a bell?)

They also fall back on the cost issue – new regulations will be too expensive, especially for smaller oil and gas operations. But that rings a bit hollow when we consider that the US companies alone made $271 billion in profits for 2012, which doesn’t even include the many billions of dollars received in tax subsidies they enjoy.

However, it does seem there is always enough money for the millions of dollars in campaign contributions made to friendly congressmen and senators – so increased costs as a consideration against additional safety measures should be taken with a large grain of salt.

Taking the Next Steps in Oil & Gas Industry Safety

First, let’s look at just one “micro-situation.” What safety measures can be implemented now, and at minimal cost to the oil & gas companies?

Consider this – hand injuries make up nearly half of accidents in the oil and gas industry. The average cost per single injury is just under $22,000. (National Safety Council figures)

These injuries can be vastly reduced by wearing high-tech gloves specific to the operation performed. Blunt force, pinching, crushing, penetration, abrasion and cut protection, acid resistance, high and low temperature resistant… special gloves can be suited for the particular use and environment the oil field workers will face.

The gloves would certainly cost far less than the lost time and added expense a hand injury will produce. And even if not, how can one put a price tag on the loss of a hand or finger, or even the loss of full mobility? If it happens to you, you can’t put a price on it.

Now for the macro vision. Although the oil & gas industries have extremely sophisticated technologies – some of the most advanced on the planet, those technologies are many times proprietary holdings – meaning each company closely guards their own secrets.

 There are as yet no industry-wide safety operating standards that apply to every oil and gas operation.

  •  The aviation industry has them…
  • The nuclear power plant industry has them…
  • Every automobile built or imported into the USA has them…

 What is stopping us from having the same uniform standards for such an integral part of our economy – oil & gas?

Here’s the Bottom Line

 Yes, the oil and gas industries are inherently dangerous – that does go with the territory. That’s why “roughnecks” do get paid top dollar for their work.

 But when accidents do happen – they can be spectacular disasters.

 The Deepwater Horizon catastrophe with almost five million barrels of oil decimating the Gulf of Mexico was and still is a monumental disaster to lives lost, the environment, the fish, animal and plant life, and the livelihoods of literally thousands of gulf residents.

 The response from both the government and the oil industry was lackluster at best, and a disgrace at worst. People died. Wildlife died. Economies were ruined. We as a people and a nation can not only do better – but must demand we do better.

 Our future depends on it.