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How does petroleum gas inhalation affect an oil field worker?

In recent years, when thinking of crude oil extraction and production, we tend more and more to think of the discovery of the Bakken formation in western North Dakota and eastern Montana. This reserve continues to flourish, and many Montanans make their living as a result of this discovery.

However, working in the oil fields themselves is, not surprisingly, dangerous. Indeed, there is a constant risk of oil field accidents, and simply breathing in petroleum gases can lead to adverse side effects and possibly even death. Since 2010, nine workers have died as a result of prolonged inhalation of these vapors.

Comprised mainly of benzene, butane and ethane, oil field workers are primarily exposed to these petroleum gases when they open, and thus depressurize, the hatch on an oil tank. These gases are released in high concentration, and the oil field worker inhaling these gases feel the effects: a feeling of drunkenness, dizziness and lightheadedness.

What makes these gases so dangerous is that these effects are felt almost immediately, and a worker could die within minutes of exposure. While breathing in fresh air is the simple remedy to these effects, fresh air is certainly hard to come by in an oil field. More often than not, workers need to be exposed to these gases for extended periods to perform their job. The workers most affected are those who are tasked with gauging the tank or getting oil samples. Truck drivers must perform these gauges on their tanks, as well.

Clearly, working in an oil field can be unsafe, perhaps even more so than other lines of work. Simply breathing in the air can cause adverse side effects. While a fall or other safety lapses are the most obvious culprit of oil field accidents, the danger of petroleum gas inhalation is a constant presence that must be taken into account.

Source: Inside Energy, "What workers need to know about oilfield gas exposure," Emily Guerin, March 3, 2016

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