According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while hazards in the oil industry are well-studied and documented, little information exists about worker safety issues during flowback operations. Flowback happens after hydraulic fracturing and refers to the collection of process fluids from the wellbore that come back to the surface. Such fluids are temporarily kept in tanks, pits, or pounds. Workers must then manually open tank hatches or visit the pits so they can gauge fluid levels using manual methods, such as with sticks and tapes.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) notes that since 2010, at least four workers have died from alleged chemical exposure during flowback. The incidents happened typically when individuals worked alone measuring the liquid. Several toxic substances are associated with the procedure, including hydrogen sulfide and volatile hydrocarbons. These chemicals can typically affect breathing, the eyes, and the nervous system. Severe exposure can even cause abnormal rhythms in the heart.
More research is necessary to determine exposure hazards and the ways to prevent them. However, the CDC released some preliminary recommendations for minimizing hazards. They include finding different ways for measuring levels in tanks that do not involve manual methods, providing training for the hazards of flowback operations, ensuring that workers never work alone, providing protective respiratory gear, monitoring workers, and creating emergency procedures for dealing with incidents.
If you want more information about potential oil field accidents or fatalities, or are involved in such an incident, please contact us. As your oil field accident attorney, we will protect your rights.