Human (And Probably Environmental) Cost Of Drilling Tracks Oil's Upward Price Trend

oil drilling rig human cost photo

It has long been understood by US environmental regulators that an industry with environmental issues is very likely to have serious occupational safety and health problems. The US' 'drill here, drill there' trend, following strong oil prices, has been hitting oil field workers hard. "At least 598 workers died on the job between 2002 and 2007, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics." Involved is a corporate culture of risk taking, fed by boom and bust cycles. According to the AP-carried story: impacted are relatively inexperienced, badly trained, over-worked employees, some of whom are recent immigrants with poor language skills - an obstacle to safety training. Partly to blame, is weak enforcement and low penalties for safety violations from the much-maligned and under-resourced overseeing agency: OSHA. The result is this.

The fatality rate for oil and gas workers in the U.S. between 2002 and 2007 was more than 29 deaths per 100,000 workers, or about seven times the average for all occupations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
From a preceding period, a reported baseline industry average fatality rate was 21/100,000 full time workers: almost 30% lower. (See CDC citation below if interested in details.)

Kill here, kill now, seemingly the unstated the mantra of oil drilling in this decade. There's really no good excuse. Solutions are known. Via::SignOnSanDiego, U.S. oilfield deaths rise sharply. Image credit::USEPA, Oil Drilling RigUpdate:: According to the CDC report titled Injuries to International Petroleum Drilling Workers, 1988-1990 , (which, belying the title, applies only to US oilfield workers) for every fatality in the oil field there were plenty of non-fatal injuries ("NFIs").

Of the 5251 reports, 5218 (99%) involved NFIs (Table 1) -- representing an overall 3-year rate for NFIs of 1.2 per 100 FTEs.
(FTE = Full Time Employee equivalent)

How Do Occupational Health Risks Translate To Environmental Issues For The Oil and Gas Industry?
The oil and gas industry makes the argument that with better technology and modern operating practices that environmental impacts of drilling are minimal and mitigated. and therefore acceptable 'on balance' (paraphrasing). This argument overlooks the human factor of new, badly trained workers. And it ignores the generally recognized correlation mentioned at the outset of this post.

Until the industry gets the occupational fatality and injury rates down significantly, it has no credibility on environmental impacts. None.

Let's hope the cost of the thousands of US oil field injuries that occur each year are covered by employer-paid health care benefits.

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