July 31, 2018 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 0Comment

OSHA issued citations yesterday to three firms for hazards related to an oil rig explosion that killed five workers. The disaster occurred on January 22 and caused the death of Roger Cunningham, 55, of Seminole, OK; Josh Ray, 35, of Fort Worth, TX; Cody Risk, 26, of Wellington, CO; Matt Smith, 29, of McAlester, OK; and Parker Waldridge, 60, of Crescent, OK. The rig was located in Pittsburg County, OK.  Other workers at the drill rig heard heard a boom, saw a fire, and evacuated.

(Left to right, top to bottom) Josh Ray, Matt Smith, Cody Risk, Parker Waldridge, and Roger Cunningham.

It took emergency responders nearly 30 hours before they could recover the five workers’ bodies. They were located in the “doghouse,” which is the office used to control the drilling rig.

Patterson-UTI Drilling received citations for six serious violations and a proposed penalty of nearly $74,000. OSHA cited the company under its general duty clause because it failed to maintain control of the well during drilling operations. OSHA indicated that the hazard could have been eliminated had the company followed the American Petroleum Institute’s recommended practices (RP 54, Section 6.1.1) to prevent kicks and blowouts.

OSHA also cited Patterson under the general duty clause because

“the racking board platform on the rig—the emergency descent device available for egress from the derrick–would not extend due to a mechanical deficiency.”

OSHA noted that this hazard could have been addressed had the employer followed ANSI/ASSE Z359.4 (i.e., safety requirements for assisted-rescue and self-rescue systems.) Patterson was also cited for failing to have an emergency response plan (as required by 1910.120) and for not having a back-up emergency alarm system (as required by 1910.165).

Crescent Consulting received citations for three serious violations. The violations also related to failing to maintain control of the rig, failing to have an emergency response plan, and inadequate employee alarm system. OSHA’s proposed penalty is $36,600.

Skyline Directional Drilling was cited by OSHA for one serious violation with a proposed penalty of $8,100. A heat lamp being used on the rig was not approved (the electrical wiring not safe) for a hazardous location (as required under 1910.307).  Patterson UTI and Crescent Consulting were also cited for this hazard.

When the explosion occurred a spokesperson for Patterson-UTI said:

the company “strives to adhere to industry standards. Patterson-UTI has embraced a culture of continuous improvement in safety, training and operations.  In recent years, we have invested millions of dollars on training and protective equipment and worked to instill a company-wide culture where safety is the top priority of each employee.”

Striving to adhere to industry standards is cop-out language. I’m striving  to do a lot of things, but that hardly means I’m succeeding.

Patterson-UTI is not some mom-and-pop operation. Its revenue for the first half of 2018 was $1.7 billion. The company announced last week that its:

“Average rig margin per day increased to….$8,270.”

Repeat: average rig margin per day is $8,270.  The company currently has 176 rigs.

OSHA’s area director in Oklahoma City noted in a press release:

“These employers failed to properly control hazards involved in oil and gas extraction activities, and the result was tragic.”

The death of these five men was indeed tragic. It is also inexcusable.


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