Texas produces more crude oil than any other state. The Lone Star State produced 43% of the nation’s crude oil in 2021, and demand is expected to continue growing. Drilling rigs are prominent features on both land and at sea in Texas.
Drilling rigs provide decent employment opportunities for Texans. But conducting and maintaining oil drilling operations can be dangerous work resulting in significant injuries and death when accidents happen.
Understanding the potential danger and following appropriate safety mandates is critical for those who work in, on, or around drilling rigs.
Oil Drilling Rigs in Texas
Texas has considerably more drilling rigs than any other state. The majority of rigs are located in the Permian Basin region in west Texas. Oil rigs are also operated offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. As demands for energy keep rising, Texas is looking to expand production to meet growing needs.
In 2022, Texas added the largest number of jobs in the oil and gas industry in the state’s history. Employment opportunities in the ‘upstream sector’ (extraction operations) have been steadily increasing. There are close to 200,000 Texans currently working in the sector.
The Nature of Work on and Around Drilling Rigs
The component parts in drilling operations are many times bigger and heavier than the workers who are moving around them. Flammable chemicals are transmitted through pressurized pipes. When something goes wrong, it can involve huge metal parts moving very rapidly and devastating anything that happens to be in the way.
In 2021, Texas reported more fatal work injuries than any other state, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Extraction is second only to transportation as the occupation reporting the most fatal accidents. Oil and gas extraction results in more fatalities than all other types of mining operations.
The Risks of Working on a Drilling Rig
Some of the risks of working on an oil drilling rig seem obvious. Workers are in and around huge equipment extracting highly flammable substances under pressure. The work can be strenuous and the hours long. But other risks may be due to safety violations or mechanical malfunctions.
The following are some of the most common risks associated with drilling rig operations:
- Explosions and fire
- Exposure to toxins
- Being struck by machinery or falling debris
- Being crushed by or caught in machinery
Examples of Drilling Rig Accident Events
Below are listed some examples of the types of accidents that can occur on drilling rigs. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reported the following events resulted in fatal accidents in 2022:
- Employee struck in the head and killed by drilling pipe
- Employee killed by collapsing rig mast
- Employee falls through a gap in the floor and dies
- Employee is killed when crushed by equipment
Safety Requirements Imposed by Law
Workplace safety standards in the oil and gas industry are imposed by both federal and state laws. OSHA requires all employers to provide workers with a work environment free of recognized hazards that may cause death or serious injury. There are specific standards that apply to various oil and gas operations. Oil and gas production is regulated in Texas by the Oil and Gas Division of the Railroad Commission.
Why Drilling Rig Accidents Occur
Most drilling rig accidents are the result of human error. Someone did not do what they were supposed to do. There was a miscommunication. Safety protocols were not followed. Matters other than safety were given priority.
Two major sources of error that contribute to an increased likelihood of accidents are:
- Lack of adequate training for workers
- Improper or inadequate servicing or maintenance of equipment
Injuries Sustained in Drilling Rig Accidents
Injuries sustained in drilling rig accidents can be severe, if not deadly. Explosions and fires can result in lost limbs and disfigurement. Being hit by falling debris or malfunctioning equipment can cause broken bones and internal injuries. Getting crushed by equipment can cause significant internal and external damage.
Laws Applicable to Drilling Rig Accidents
When someone gets injured as the result of a drilling rig accident, the location of the rig will determine the laws applicable to a claim for damages. Drilling rigs located offshore may be in navigable waters and subject to federal maritime laws rather than state laws.
The Jones Act is a maritime law authorizing a seaman injured while working on a vessel to receive compensation for the injury. The U.S. Supreme Court has decided that an offshore oil rig can be considered a vessel in many circumstances, and workers injured on those offshore rigs can be seamen as intended by the Act.
The Jones Act requires employers to provide certain benefits to employees injured at work without regard to fault – referred to as ‘maintenance and cure.’ The benefits are similar to workers’ compensation benefits and help with living expenses and medical treatment.
The Jones Act also gives employees the right to sue employers when an accident occurs due to employer negligence. An offshore drilling rig worker can recover additional compensation for injuries when an employer has failed to provide and maintain a reasonably safe working environment. Workers need only demonstrate an employer’s failure contributed in some way to the claimed injuries in order to recover.
Depending on the circumstances surrounding a drilling rig accident, there may be other federal laws that govern injured workers’ legal rights.
How the Risk of Drilling Rig Accidents Can be Minimized
The risk of drilling rig accidents increases when safety is not made a priority. The expectation of reasonable workplace safety is the right of all those who work on and/or near drilling rigs – whether land-based or offshore.
The following practices can help improve safety and avoid accidents on drilling rigs.
- Clear communication
- Proper training
- Use of appropriate safety equipment
- Following safety procedures
- Following recommended inspection and maintenance schedules
- Keeping work areas free of clutter or debris
Drilling rig accidents can have devastating results. Awareness of the risks and a commitment to safe practices will help keep operations running smoothly and avoid oilfield injuries. If you were injured in a Texas drilling rig accident, contact our oilfield accident lawyer at Liggett Law Group, P.C. to schedule a free consultation.