Oilfield death prompts federal inspection of drilling company

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

July 13, 2013 at 2:13 a.m.

A Tulsa, Okla.-based oil and gas drilling company is under the microscope again for accidents that occurred in the Crossroads.

On June 20, a man died on a Helmerich & Payne Inc. rig outside Cuero, which prompted a federal investigation into the company. Two other men were hospitalized less than a week later, June 25, after a crane broke at another H&P well north of Yorktown.

Juan J. Rodriguez, deputy regional director at the U.S. Department of Labor, would not comment further on the H&P investigation because it is an open case.

"Companies are mandated to report an incident to (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) when three or more injuries requiring hospitalization or a fatality happened" within eight hours of the event, he wrote in an email.

OSHA can also investigate even if the company did not notify the agency, Rodriguez said.

Of the 53 nationwide inspections of H&P in the past three years, 18 have occurred in Texas, resulting in 25 violations, according to federal records.

Helmerich & Payne Inc. Executive Vice President Steven Mackey did not return multiple messages for comment.

Recently, the company underwent federal inspections May 22 in Midland, April 23 in North Dakota, April 8 in Livingston and twice in February in Pecos and Texon, which resulted in several violations, according to federal records.

Other area drilling companies have also been scrutinized. Patterson Drilling has had 68 inspections nationally since 2010, with 23 of those occurring in Texas. OSHA cited Patterson with five violations in Texas.

Pioneer Drilling Company had nine inspections in Texas since 2010 and received 39 violations.

Marianne McGee, compliance assistance specialist in OSHA's Corpus Christi office, said oil and gas is a high priority for the office.

But with 2,000 compliance officers across the U.S., OSHA's resources are stretched thin, she said.

"You can't get to every site," she said. "What we do is prioritize on the industries that we know are more dangerous, so we do a lot more oil and gas than we used to."

When the boom goes bust, she said, the focus will likely switch to construction inspections.

"We try to address the most significant hazards. If the oil and gas industry is booming, then we know that's a pretty hazardous industry, so we know we'll be spending more time there," she said.

From 2003 to 2010, 823 oil and gas extraction workers were killed on the job - a fatality rate seven times greater than the rate for all U.S. industries, according to OSHA.

DeWitt County Justice of the Peace George Robinson, who responded with paramedics to the accident near Yorktown, is familiar with the hazards of the oil and gas business.

"It's a dangerous field; there's no doubt about that," Robinson said. "There's a lot of moving equipment and a lot of things that could happen."

While drilling increases in the area, he expects the rate of accidents will, too. But in his mind, that just makes sense.

"We have more cars on the road, so we have more wrecks," he said. "We probably have more truck accidents than we do oil-field accidents."



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