An oil rig explosion is not common, but it is usually deadly when it does occur. Workers in the petroleum and gas industry work under extremely dangerous conditions, which is why between 2002 and 2007, about 600 workers died while on the job. From 2006 to 2010, there were 1,300 serious injuries and 41 deaths counted on drilling platforms out in the Gulf of Mexico, according to federal statistics. That may not seem like a lot, but that only represents the injuries that were reported, and companies normally do everything possible not to report injuries, so the actual numbers are likely significantly higher.
HOW DOES AN OIL RIG EXPLOSION OCCUR?
There are many dangers lurking on every drilling platform. Heavy machinery like cranes and lifters can strike a worker who is not paying attention. Chemical spills present slipping and exposure hazards. Tools are often dropped onto decks below. A lack of fall protection puts workers in precarious positions up high. Flammable materials can combust and cause a conflagration that quickly sweeps over the platform. Couple these risks with the grueling hours platform workers undertake (there have been reports of roughnecks taking on 72-hour shifts), and it’s surprising that there aren’t more serious and fatal incidents.
However, the one accident all platform workers fear is the blowout. A blowout occurs when a pocket of pressurized oil or gas is breached and uncontrolled as it rockets to the surface, ejecting material at high-velocity hundreds of feet into the air. The traditional image of “gushers” that are seen in movies and television shows are actually depictions of blowouts, and they have always been capable of causing serious injury. However, with modern blowout preventers and sophisticated pressure monitoring technology, they aren’t as common.
When a blowout does occur on a platform, though, the result is often an oil rig explosion. The material inside a blowout is not only moving at deadly speeds, capable of killing anyone in the way, but it is also highly flammable. Once it reaches the surface, it can be ignited by any open flame, or even a tiny spark, and once it is ignited, the sudden combustion is what may lead to an oil rig explosion.
This is what happened during the now infamous Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion. BP managers pushed the platform’s drilling equipment too far and ignored pressure monitors that showed a buildup of pressure in the drilling head. The blowout prevention technology in the drilling column was also in poor condition, so when a combination of methane gas suddenly streaked to the surface, there was nothing stopping it. The result was 11 worker fatalities and an additional 16 injuries.
These disasters have amazing destructive potential, and because workers have nowhere to run during an accident, they are trapped amid the fire, smoke, and decaying integrity of the platform. By the time rescue personnel can arrive, severe injuries, including third and fourth degree burns, serious physical trauma, and internal injuries. Workers are often left permanently harmed and disabled, and unable to return to work.
Because injuries are often so severe, legal advisors recommend hurt workers refuse to sign or agree to anything until they have a chance to speak to an attorney. Corporations will attempt to dodge liability in the aftermath of an accident, which is why many turn to a lawyer for help.