A death in the Bakken: Worker's family rejects drug conclusion
WATFORD CITY, N.D. -- One thing is clear: Brandon Belk should have been wearing an oxygen mask. After that, there's a long list of questions. It starts with a big one. Why did he die? There's the mix of solvents and petroleum gunk he was breathing while cleaning a frack tank two days before his death in July 2013. When federal worker safety inspectors showed up, they found the working conditions dangerous. But there's also the traces of methadone -- a potent and often abused painkiller -- found in his bloodstream.
OIL AND GAS
Drilling's safety exemptions and how they got there
In 1983, troubled by the high death rate in the oil field, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration set out to impose a set of worker safety rules on drilling companies. The effort backfired. And when that proposal died, drilling companies wound up exempt from a suite of basic worker protections.
Poisoned by the shale? Investigations leave questions in oil tank deaths
KILLDEER, N.D. -- Dustin Bergsing was 21 and six weeks a father when he arrived here at Marathon Oil Corp.'s Buffalo 34-12H well pad, a square of red gravel carved into a low hill. By dawn, he was dead. A co-worker found him shortly after midnight, slumped below the open hatch of a tank of Bakken Shale crude oil. It was Bergsing's job to pop the hatch and record how much was inside. An autopsy found he died of "hydrocarbon poisoning due to inhalation of petroleum vapors."
OIL AND GAS
Drilling's worker safety record bodes ill for public health
Worker safety is perhaps the only place where the oil and gas industry's safety record can be lined up next to other industries and compared. It's gotten better, but with a fatality rate that topped coal mining's in 2012, drilling stacks up badly.
Public health and worker safety experts say that's a bad sign for people living amid frack tanks, rigs and truck traffic that come with the country's drilling boom.
'That stuff can get you so fast' -- deadly gas on the rise in oil fields
ODESSA, Texas -- Elaine Beadle initially thought the odor creeping into her home on this city's west side was a sewer leak. It started about the time she moved in four years ago -- a smell like rotten eggs. Sometimes it got so bad her eyes burned. She soon learned the real source: a tank battery that collects oil and gas from wells scattered throughout the vacant land and small homes near the intersection of University Drive and Loop 338.
The gas in the tank battery contains more than 300 times the lethal level of hydrogen sulfide, a common byproduct of oil production in West Texas.
The drilling industry's explosion problem
Temperatures below 20 degrees Fahrenheit froze the valve on the back of Greg Bish's frack truck. To thaw it, he fetched a blowtorch and put the 4-inch flame to the metal. The explosion blew him 75 feet, over a 7-foot-tall barbed-wire fence, and killed him.
It might seem dangerous to apply a propane torch to the back of a large metal tank holding natural gas production waste, as Bish did that morning in 2010 just outside Elderton, Pa. But in the oil and gas industry, it's not unusual.