Though oil prices have dropped and the oil and gas boom has slowed, there is still a lot of fracking going on in Texas, and not all of it is being done safely. Several months ago, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued new rules regarding the hazards of airborne silica associated with fracking. Last week, they followed that up by issuing an advisory regarding non-silica health and safety hazards in the oil and gas industry.
The purpose of the document, entitled “Hydraulic Fracturing and Flowback Hazards Other than Respirable Silica,” is to inform employers and workers about a number of known hazards related to the processes associated with hydraulic fracturing and flowback processes. OSHA does make clear, however, that this advisory is just that, and that no additional legal or compliance standards or obligations are being established right now.
The process of fracking uses incredibly high-pressure water, chemical and sand mixtures to break through underground rock, so that the oil and natural gas beneath them can be captured. A large portion of this advisory deals with the process of flowback, in which the fluids seep back out of the cracks in the rock formations and can create a hazard for oil and gas workers. These fluids and other materials often contain a significant amount of debris, such as rocks and mud, as well as chemicals and sand.
In addition to the flowback process, the new OSHA advisory notes three other hazard areas involved in the fracking process. These include:
- transport, rig-up, and rig-down
- mixing and injection; and
- pressure pumping.
Each section not only details the hazards inherent in each part of the process as well as comprehensive recommendations for avoiding each hazard. For example, there are numerous prevention strategies dealing with potentially flammable materials, while another recommends ways to prevent exposure to a number of organic chemicals, such as hydrogen sulfide.
As of last year, OSHA notes that about 35,000 fracking wells had been set up. While they don’t have specific figures regarding the fracking subsector, the oil and gas sector on the whole has a higher fatality than the U.S. generally.
The OSHA advisory also suggests that employers plan better for jobs, and to properly train workers with regard to hazard recognition and development of safe work practices and to develop injury and illness prevention programs. The last section explains worker rights.
It’s great that OSHA is offering guidance as to the potential hazards of working at a fracking site. However, regardless of what OSHA or state officials do, employers always have an absolute duty to provide their employees with the safest workplace possible. When they fail to do, they may be negligent, and they could be liable for any death or injury that results from that failure.
If either you or a loved one have been injured or killed while working at a fracking site, please contact the Texas Oil & Gas Worksite Injury Lawyers at Hill Law Firm for as soon as possible to protect your rights.