Oilfield Accidents In Texas And The Impact On Workers, Communities, And The Environment

Oilfields are common across Texas, from the urban areas to the broad open plains. The state has long been dominant in the nation’s oil production. In Texas alone, 163,182 oil wells and 87,370 gas wells produce over 3.5 million barrels of crude oil daily.

To put that into perspective, around 20 million barrels are produced in the entire U.S. daily, putting Texas at over 15% of the nation’s production.

Texas also has over 208,000 workers throughout the oil and gas extraction industry.

As you can see, it’s not a secret that the oil and gas industry is embedded into the DNA of Texas’ workforce and daily life. And with this significant presence across cities in the state come challenges.

Challenges to the workers in the form of accidents and injuries, challenges to the environment, and challenges to the surrounding communities where these oilfields are based.

Today, we’ll break down the following:

  • Texas oilfields, how they operate, and the workers that make them thrive
  • How accidents can occur and the injuries sustained by oilfield workers
  • The impact on communities
  • What to do if you’ve been injured in an oilfield accident

Understanding How Texas Oilfields Operate

Oilfields have a straightforward goal: extracting crude oil or natural gas from the Earth. However, within these processes, several operations happen.

We can summarize it into three main stages:

  1. Drilling
  2. Production
  3. Maintenance and Operation

Drilling

Drilling is the initial stage of oilfield operations. The process begins by creating a wellbore, or a hole, in the Earth’s crust. This hole will allow workers to access underground reservoirs for crude oil extraction.

The main piece of equipment used in drilling is drilling rigs. These rigs have drilling bits that can drive through massive rock formations and solid surfaces. Most modern drilling rigs are highly sophisticated and can move through deep depths, often reaching thousands of feet below the Earth’s surface.

Production

Once the wellbore, or hole, is established, workers can move on to the next phase of the process: production. This phase focuses on retrieving the crude oil or natural gas from the reservoir and bringing it to the surface.

There are three critical pieces of equipment used in the production stage:

  • Pumping units – machines that lift the oil or gas to the surface
  • Separator units – machines that separate oil, water, and gas, ensuring only the right materials are processed
  • Storage tanks – large containers on-site that store the oil or natural gas before it’s sent to refineries or other distribution centers

Maintenance and Operation

Like any workplace, proper maintenance and operation keep machines and equipment running safely and efficiently. Workers must do routine maintenance checks and repairs to equipment to reduce the risk of accidents or running behind on production.

Machinery and Equipment Used in Oilfields

Oilfields are complex, using many different equipment and machines to run day-to-day operations. We have mentioned a few standard pieces of equipment above; here is a complete list:

  • Drilling equipment – drilling rigs, drill bits, mud pumps
  • Production equipment – pump jacks, separator units, storage tanks
  • Safety and control equipment – safety valves, SCADA systems
  • Transportation equipment – pipeline networks, tanker trucks
  • Support equipment – generators, wellhead equipment

Common Texas Oilfield Accidents And Injuries

With over 208,000 workers across Texas’s oilfields, accidents and injuries are too familiar. Texas leads the nation in most oilfield-related deaths from 2014 – 2019, with 219 fatalities.

From falls on elevated surfaces to potential equipment malfunctions and even disastrous fires and explosions, the oilfields of Texas are a challenging place to work every day.

The oil and gas industry is crucial to Texas and the nation’s economies. So, it is important to understand common workplace accidents and injuries on the oilfields so we can all do our best to mitigate the risks.

Types of Accidents on Texas Oilfields

Falls and Trips

These types of accidents, as reported by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, are some of the most common in Texas oilfields. With most workers operating from elevated surfaces and slippery conditions, it’s essential for oilfield supervisors to implement every safety measure to reduce the severity of these trips and falls.

Equipment Malfunctions

As mentioned earlier in this article, oilfields are filled with machinery and equipment pushed to its limits. These machines are robust and heavy; workers can experience blowouts, collapses of entire equipment, and even hydraulic failures when properly maintained.

Fire and Explosions

With crude oil and natural gas being the sole product of oilfields in Texas, the environment is primed to experience potential fires and explosions. Dealing with flammable materials daily means oilfields must maintain rigorous safety protocols to help prevent catastrophic events from occurring.

Chemical Exposure

Oilfield workers come into contact with hazardous chemicals used in drilling and production processes. These chemicals, such as hydrogen sulfide (H2S), can cause serious health issues.

Struck-By or Caught-Between Incidents

Workers often use heavy equipment through the three stages of an oilfield’s operation. Whether operating cranes or drills, workers can quickly find themselves stuck between large machinery during normal operations.

Transportation Accidents

Commuting to the oilfield has its risks, but the risk of colliding with a heavy truck or other large equipment is still high once on site. Typically, workers must navigate tight corners and minor roadways on-site to move throughout the oil extraction operations. This can be a recipe for disaster if the proper safety regulations are not implemented.

Potential Injuries for Texas Oilfield Workers

The accidents listed above can produce tragic injuries, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and even lead to death. Here are some of the most common injuries for oilfield workers in the state of Texas:

  • Back injuries
  • Broken bones
  • Crushing injuries
  • Burns
  • Respiratory illnesses
  • Traumatic injuries (brain or other)
  • Puncture wounds
  • Hearing loss
  • Toxic exposure
  • Nerve damage

Each one of these injuries ranges in level of severity. But it’s important to understand that these risks are not insurmountable, meaning we can prevent or eliminate them from occurring with aggressive safety measures.

As we’ll discuss in detail in the next section, everything from training to using protective equipment and emergency response protocols is essential to protecting the workers on every Texas oilfield.

Through a diligent and dedicated approach, we can work towards a safer and healthier future for oilfield workers across the Lone Star state.

How To Prevent Oilfield Accidents

Now that you understand the types of accidents that can occur on a Texas oilfield and the potential injuries that could result, it’s important to talk about prevention. Although it is impossible to eliminate the risks and dangers that oilfield workers may experience in their daily operations, there are preventative and proactive steps that can be taken to reduce the severity or frequency of accidents and subsequent injuries.

From training the workers with comprehensive education to regulatory compliance, each element plays a crucial role in safeguarding the oilfield workforce and ensuring the industry’s continued success.

Let’s jump right into some of the most critical safety measures…

Have a Strong Training and Education Program

Proper training is the foundation of accident prevention. Every worker on-site should understand all safety protocols, hazard recognition, and equipment operation. The employer should enforce regular safety drills and workshops to ensure all workers are prepared to respond appropriately in emergencies.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Employers should ensure that all workers have the correct PPE at all times. Workers should have access to helmets, eye protection, gloves, respiratory equipment, and flame-resistant clothing for the specific hazards each type of oilfield worker may encounter.

Equipment Maintenance

As with any equipment, it’s important to stay current with routine maintenance checks and inspections. These checks are vital to look for malfunctions and failures and reduce the risk of breakdowns.

Emergency Response Plan and Safety Leadership

The employer is responsible for setting forth a structured and actionable emergency response plan for their oilfield. These plans should be constantly tested, reviewed, and updated to reflect changing conditions. On this same token, helping workers feel safe and protected from potential hazards starts with strong leadership from the top. Leaders should always lead by example and emphasize safety across all bodies of work.

Regulatory Compliance and Continual Improvement

Compliance with state, federal, and local regulations and laws is non-negotiable. Any site that fails to meet safety standards can result in accidents and severe legal repercussions. Companies should also strive to improve their sites continually. Employers should review and investigate recent accidents to determine what adjustments to make to prevent anything in the future.

Effects Of The Texas Oil Industry On Communities

Texas oilfields are not just engines of energy production; they are economic lifelines that are carefully woven throughout the communities where they’re based. The impact on surrounding communities, from job creation to revenue generation, cannot be overstated.

However, underneath this boom in economic development oilfields can provide for the community, some unique challenges appear across small-town Texas.

In this section, we’ll explore the relationship oilfields have with the community residents and shed some light on the complex contributions and hurdles that come with the territory.

Economic Pillars of Local Communities

Oilfields provide unique opportunities for the communities in which they’re based.

Here are some quick examples:

Job Creation
Oilfields generate thousands of job opportunities for workers, attracting both skilled and unskilled workers to the region. These jobs include drilling, maintenance, logistics, and administrative positions.

Revenue Generation
Oil and gas extraction sites generate millions in revenue for local governments through taxes and, in some cases, royalties.

Supporting Local Businesses
Since every oilfield is bringing a surplus of workers (some that live in the local town, some that commute), there is an increase in demand for equipment, supplies, restaurants, hotels, and other retail stores.

Improved Infrastructure
When oilfields are an established part of the local economy, this can lead to improvements in road repairs, upgrades, and traffic patterns.

Challenges Local Communities Face From Oilfields

Now that we’ve outlined four benefits oilfields can provide to local communities, it’s important to discuss the challenges.

Infrastructure Strain
The increased need for heavy machinery, trucks, and equipment can cause road wear and tear faster. This strain can lead to increased congestion and traffic if the roads need to be repaired and overall increased maintenance costs for the city.

Environmental Concerns
Oilfields can put severe environmental risks on local communities. These can include chemical spills and emissions, affecting the regional air quality and water treatment.

House and Cost of Living
When additional workers move to a small community, there can be an increased demand for housing. This quick spike can drive up home prices and monthly rent; ultimately, it could push residents out to more affordable cities.

Population Boom and Social Issues
Rapid population growth means more demand for healthcare, education, and public safety services. If the local community does not have these in place, it could cause resource adjustments and budget constraints.

The relationship between Texas oilfields and surrounding communities is complex. While oilfields are crucial to supporting and growing local economies, they also require dedicated management to reduce their impact on local infrastructure, cost of living, and the environment.

Balancing these factors is challenging but necessary for the energy industry and the local communities that call Texas home.

Why You Need An Oilfield Specialized Attorney If You Have Been Injured

Knowing you are not alone is vital if you have been injured in an oilfield accident. Your only focus should be recovering and spending time with loved ones, not focusing on the legal process.

With oilfield accidents, workers can often face difficulties recovering the maximum compensation. This is because oil and gas companies tend to have ample financial resources, and the legal landscape for oilfield work can be complicated to navigate.

The good news is that Abraham Watkins is Houston’s oldest personal injury law firm dedicated to assisting those who have suffered from an injury in the oil and gas industry. We understand the risks that workers face daily and the commitment they have put forth to their place of work.

Every worker deserves to be cared for and protected when arriving on the job site.

Determining Fault: Most Houston Oilfield Accident Cases Stem from Negligence

While there are always two sides to every story, a common factor in oilfield accidents is typically centered around negligence, not that of the injured worker.

Negligence occurs when a party breaks its duty of care and does not take reasonable steps to prevent harm to another party. Just as every driver has a duty not to drive while under the influence, oilfield employers must be responsible in their efforts to protect their employees.

When negligence does happen, it’s crucial to hold the negligent party accountable. An experienced oilfield attorney can help guide you through the complex process and provide you with the compensation you deserve.

Potential Negligent Parties in Oilfield Accidents

One of the reasons oilfield accidents are so complicated is that it’s difficult to know WHO is the responsible party or multiple parties involved. This added challenge may require various legal teams and support.

The potential negligent parties could include:

  • Large oil companies
  • Service companies working for major oil corporations
  • Owners of the oilfield
  • Operators of the oilfield, including machinery operators
  • Companies involved in oil exploration
  • Companies responsible for equipment manufacture, sale, maintenance, or rental on-site
  • Refinery owners

Protecting Your Rights As An Oilfield Workers

Unfortunately, there are several tactics that oilfield victims may experience to reduce the compensation they rightfully deserve. This is because it’s often in the best interest of the negligent parties and insurance companies to minimize payouts, essentially protecting their financial interests.

In these situations, having a team of attorneys who know the federal and state regulations governing oil and gas industries is vital. If you were injured while working for an oil and gas company or at an oilfield, our team at Abraham Watkins is ready to help you receive the maximum compensation.

We offer free consultations to discuss the specific details of your accident and the legal options available.

Do not let intimidating legal teams and insurance companies discourage you from seeking the relief you deserve.

Contact us today for a free consultation at 713-222-7211 or 1-800-870-9584 and begin your journey towards justice.