NIOSH Claims Fracking Worker Deaths Caused by Chemical Exposure During Flowback Operations
A U.S. Government study has found that on-the-job exposure to fracking fluids has caused the deaths of at least four fracking site workers since 2010. The worker deaths were described in a report released by the National Institute for Occupational Safety (NIOSH in May 2014).
The NIOSH investigation focused on four worker deaths at well sites in the Williston Basin of North Dakota and Montana. All of the cases involved workers who were involved in flowback operations at the time of chemical exposure.
NIOSH is concerned about flowback operations because flowback fluids contain hazardous levels of toxic chemicals called volatile hydrocarbons. Regular exposure to these chemicals can cause permanent damage to the eyes, nervous system, lungs and heart. Exposure to high levels of volatile hydrocarbons is fatal.
Flowback refers to the return of process fluids from the wellbore to the surface after hydraulic fracturing is completed. The returned fluids contain all the chemicals that were originally pumped into the well as well as chemicals such as volatile hydrocarbons that naturally occur in rock. The fluids are temporarily stored in tanks at the well site. During flowback, workers must gauge the levels in the tanks using hand held gauges that are inserted through access hatches at the top of the tanks. The gasses, which collect above the fluid, are released when the hatch is opened. This exposes the workers to potentially fatal levels of the dangerous chemicals.
NIOSH is working with the oil and gas industry to develop a safer way of measuring fluid levels. Until then, NIOSH recommends following precautions to protect workers:
- Flowback technicians, water haulers, and drivers who work on and around flowback and production tanks should be trained to recognize and understand the risks and dangers of volatile chemical exposure.
- Al workers should be monitored for exposure to volatile hydrocarbons and other dangerous chemicals.
- Employees should never work alone in potentially hazardous areas. NIOSH recommends that at least two workers should be present at all times, so help is available if needed.
- Workers should use a mask, respirator or other protection near flowback tanks and other areas where potentially high concentrations of volatile hydrocarbons may occur.
- All workers should receive training in proper emergency procedures and be able to provide medical response in the event of an incident.
The report also emphasizes how little is known about the on-the-job health hazards associated with fracking compared to well-known worksite hazards of conventional oil and gas drilling. NIOSH warns that workers may experience both short term and long term health effects.
Are you concerned that your health symptoms are caused by your fracking site job? Read our article, Fracking Workers, Are Your Unexplained Symptoms Caused by Your Job?, and learn more about the potential health risks to fracking workers. If you’d like information about your legal rights, call Frackcident Injury Law at 855-880-6667. There’s no charge for the consultation.