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Critics denounce unsafe working conditions in oil fields

The oil fields of Montana's Bakken Shale have led to many new jobs for the region. But critics of the oil and gas industry say that a culture of maximizing production and minimizing costs has led to unnecessary oil field accidents. The recent death of a 23-year-old roughneck from a crush injury illustrates the problem.

The young man had gone to work on a drilling site in the Marcellus Shale region of New York. As in the Bakken formation of Montana and North Dakota, producers there are exploiting previously unreachable oil and gas deposits by using fracking technology - pumping high-pressure fluids into the ground.

Prior to the accident, the man's co-workers had asked the operating company to give them 60 rig mats, which stabilize the ground so that fork lifts and other equipment can operate on it. Instead of 60 rig mats, the company provided 30. The man was killed when a forklift sank into the soft ground, causing its boom to lift the man off the ground and crush him between the boom and a trailer. The victim's co-workers say the accident would not have happened if the company had provided the rig mats they requested.

One critic of the industry, a Texas consultant with decades of experience in the oil business, says the companies put production over worker safety. An oil and gas worker quoted in a recent news story said an emphasis on cost-cutting has led to cutting corners on safety.

Oil fields are among the most hazardous places to work in America. Since 2006, 652 employees have lost their lives at the drilling sites. For the families of those who are killed, state workers compensation systems provide death benefits as well as payment for funeral and medical expenses. Although an employer who pays workers compensation benefits is usually immune from a civil lawsuit, if the accident was caused by the negligence of a non-employer third party, that party is not immune and can be sued for the wrongful death.

Source: Huffington Post, "23-Year-Old Roughneck's Death Highlight Risks of $100K Jobs in Oil and Gas," Gayathri Vaidyanathan, March 11, 2013

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