According to recently released data from FracTracker — an independent oil and gas research organization that’s affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Healthy Environments and Communities — there are more than one million active oil and gas wells around the country. However, nearly half of the 8.4 million barrels of oil that are produced every single day come from either Texas or North Dakota.
The end result? Job numbers in both of these states are surging. In fact, entire cities in these states are seeing economic and real estate booms. And none of this growth is expected to slow down anytime soon. In fact, experts at the Energy Information Administration predict that the U.S.’ crude oil production will jump to a whopping 13 million barrels a day by 2036.
However, all of this growth is coming at a price. That’s because workplace injury numbers are surging right along with the oil production numbers, causing a major job safety issue.
According to the latest information released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the energy industry — which officially accounts for all oil and gas-related jobs — saw 142 fatalities in 2012. That’s the highest that number has ever been. In North Dakota alone, 104 energy employees out of every 100,000 died in 2012. According to a recent AFL-CIO report, that’s six times higher than the industry’s national rate.
So, what’s behind the increase?
Energy experts tend to have different opinions. Some say the culture of safety in the industry has changed dramatically because of fracking — a process that uses very high pressure to extract hydrocarbons from beneath the earth’s surface. Between the powerful equipment that has to be used in fracking and the heights that employees actually have to be to use this equipment, some energy experts say it’s no surprise that more employees are being injured and killed.
However, other energy experts point to all of the different vehicles that have to be used in a drilling operation. The average drilling site relies on water trucks, salt trucks, and a variety of other vehicles to be successful and efficient. Unfortunately, they say that many energy employees are being overworked — and when you put someone who’s tired and overworked behind the wheel, accidents are going to happen. A recent study supports this contention. The Associated Press analyzed the traffic deaths in six heavy drilling states and found that in some places, the number of fatalities has quadrupled since 2004.
So, what’s the solution?
Employers need to create a bonafide safety culture. For example, some companies have dispatchers available to respond to safety issues. Each of their drivers is given a stop-work-authority / safety-commitment card and told to ask for help if they spot or suspect a safety risk. Other companies have turned to special driving courses and have policies in place that prevent drivers from getting behind the wheel if they’ve logged too many work hours. Other solutions are available as well, but the goal is a common one: to raise awareness of the risks and address them in a proactive way.
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