July 3, 2015 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 1Comment

The work-related death of drill rig operator Ernesto Rodriguez, 41, did not result in any OSHA citations against his employer Complete Energy Services dba Mercer Well Services. I wrote about Rodriguez’s death on-the-job shortly after it was reported by local press.

The incident occurred on September 10, 2014 at an XTO Energy (ExxonMobil) well near Mannsville, OK. OSHA commenced its investigation on September 11 and closed the case on April 9, 2015. This is the only information on OSHA’s website about the fatality involving Ernesto Rodriguez. To find out more, I sent a FOIA request to the agency and requested their records for this inspection.

From those records I learned:

Two other companies were subject to partial OSHA inspections as part of the agency’s fatality investigation: Armada Pressure Control (here) and XTO Energy (here). Neither received citations.

OSHA withheld 20 pages from the case file on Ernesto Rodriguez’s work-related death. Some of those records were labeled emails, witness interviews, and a coroner’s report. One document offered this explanation of the incident:

“At approximately 3:00 pm on September 10, 2014, Ernesto Rodriguez, rig operator, an employee of Complete Energy Services, dba Mercer Well Services, was struck by a section of the drill string when the string parted at the third joint connection from the top. At the time of the accident the service rig was drilling out the 8th of 11 frac plugs at an approximate depth of 13,248 feet when the rig’s engine began to torque down. The rig operator stopped drilling and reversed the rotation of the drilling string to back out before becoming stuck completely in the hole when the third joint from the top parted. The top string made up of three joints of pipe came out of the hole striking the rig operator.”

A document in the file offers the “in compliance explanation” which notes:

“A third party was used to determine if the 2-3/8 inch, L80 type pipe was being used within API (American Petroleum Institute) specifications. The result of these findings were that the pipe meets these specifications. The only noted faults were as the result of the accident sequence.”

And this:

“The manufacturer of the 2-3/8 inch L80 type pipe was asked if this pipe was acceptable for drilling out frac plugs, the engineer said that it was a common practice throughout the industry. There was no violation of the manufacturer’s recommendations or guidelines for the pipe or the power swivel. Review of the API and International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC) guidelines did not reveal any deviations from the recommended practices throughout the oil and gas industry. There was no violation of OSHA CFR 1910, General Industry that governs the oil and gas industry.”

I’m not one to say “workplace accidents just happen.” I’m certain there is information in those inspection records that could provide lessons on how to prevent a similar death to another worker.

  • Is there something about why the “drill string parted at the third joint connection” that needs to be investigated? Should other drill rig operators be alerted to a potential hazard?
  • The manufacturer says using their pipe to drill out frac plugs is common practice in the industry, but should it be?
  • What could be learned from OSHA’s assessment of the “accident sequence” that could save a worker’s life?
  • Are the API’s and IADC’s guidelines, and/or OSHA’ safety standards for the oil and gas industry adequate? Are there hazards not addressed, engineering controls not stipulated, or procedures and training requirements insufficient?

When I first reported in September 2014 on the work-related death of Ernesto Rodriguez, I said OSHA would find it was not an “accident.” I expected his employer to be held accountable for the hazard that led to the 41 year old’s death. I was wrong. OSHA did not issue any citations in this case, but that doesn’t convince me that Rodriguez’s death couldn’t have been prevented. But without more disclosure by OSHA, we are hard pressed to learn lessons from worker fatalities.



One thought on “No OSHA citations for fatal work injury that killed Ernesto Rodriguez at Oklahoma fracking site

  1. Apparently in your view, there is no such thing as an accident. You might find yourself on the wrong side of that equation some day.

    Do you think humans are infallible?

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