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Feds investigate chemical risks in Montana oil fields

The oil fields of Montana and North Dakota rely on the process of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, to extract oil and gas from deep underground. The process has revolutionized the oil and gas extraction industry and has pushed production levels to all-time highs. But the process has also raised concerns about worker health and environmental risks. Now the federal government is investigating the health risks of worker exposure to volatile hydrocarbons that are released in the fracking process.

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, at least four oil field workers have died since 2010 in Montana and North Dakota following exposure to high levels of hydrocarbons. According to NIOSH, hydrocarbons can affect the nervous system, eyes and lungs. Significant exposures can also cause an abnormal heartbeat.

Fracking involves pumping water deep underground to release oil and gas from rock formations. When the water comes back to the surface as waste water, it contains volatile hydrocarbons, according to the agency. Workers can be exposed to the hydrocarbons when they measure the wastewater in storage tanks.

When an oil field worker sustains a work injury or occupational disease, they are entitled to collect workers' compensation benefits. The benefits will provide compensation for lost wages, medical expenses, and temporary and permanent disability. In the event of a fatal chemical exposure or accident, the workers' family can collect workers' compensation death benefits. Oil field accident victims and those exposed to dangerous chemicals can consult an experienced workers' compensation attorney to make sure they receive all the benefits to which they are entitled.

Source: Minneapolis StarTribune, "Oil field deaths spur probe of fracking risks," Jim Efstathiou Jr., May 19, 2014

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