Worker death raises concerns about safety and training in booming oil and gas fields

Charles "CJ" Bevins was killed at a natural gas drilling site in New York in 2011, one of 110 oil and gas extraction workers killed in the United States that year. A short obituary in the local newspaper and a funeral service marked the 23-year-old's death. Since then, his family has struggled to move on. They have been working with a New York state senator on legislation that would require oil and gas field workers to go through certified training. In this special report, E&E reporter Gayathri Vaidyanathan talks with CJ's family and coworkers and investigates safety issues in the rapidly expanding industry.


Nancy Bevins: The day he left, I had been outside at the time he was leaving, and I was really glad, because I was able to give him a big hug and a kiss and tell him I loved him, to be careful. And, you know, he said, "I love you, Mom," and then he left. And then I guess his girlfriend at the time had been in contact with him a few times, but that was like -- I think that was either Thursday or Friday.

Charlotte Bevins: It was Friday.

Nancy Bevins: And then he was killed Sunday morning.

G. Vaidyanathan: C.J. Bevins was killed on May 1, 2011, at a gas drilling site in Smyrna, N.Y. He was a 23-year-old father of two. He is survived by his parents, his children and his sisters. C.J. was struck by a forklift and died due to his injuries. An OSHA investigation found that the forklift driver was not properly trained. C.J.'s co-workers also allege that they asked their superiors for specific safety equipment. The company only gave them half the requested materials, citing cost concerns.

Tim Bailey: They are very cost-intensive industries. As a result, there is a push for production, because it's so expensive to operate. So you find that while there's this -- there are these discussions in general about safety on the surface of a coal mine before you go underground, or at the pickup truck on a gas well site before work starts -- that once the work begins, there is this push or urgency for production, and the safety sort of just fades into the background.

Charlotte Bevins: In the oil and gas field, every -- every guy I've talked to, there's like this saying that they use, and it's -- it's -- they're -- they're kind of brainwashed into thinking it's just -- oil and gas field is exempt from everything. I mean, the saying that they use is "oil field exempt."

James Riley: The fact that they break up too soon. They don't wait the eight hours for the cement to dry, you know. They just recalibrate the computer to make -- you know, make up the lost time. Every four hours they save is closer to a 24-hour day, and every 24 hours they save is anywhere from $35,000 to $50,000. I mean, because we get paid day rate, so every -- you know, every -- I mean, every hour they save, they're saving, I mean. But they don't -- they're not looking at the fact that every hour they're cutting corners with is a chance they're taking. I mean, they might save $30,000 this time, but what happens next time if the casing falls, or the cement don't hold, you know? And then you're going to have two days or three days trying to get it all pulled back out of the hole and redrilled, and, I mean, it's -- it don't make sense to me. I mean, it really don't.

Nancy Bevins: You know, I really believe that my son's death could have been prevented. They never should have really been working there at that time. The conditions were horrible.

Tim Bailey: The Bevins case, like so many other cases, as soon as you have a tragedy on the work site, the OSHA folks come in and they do an investigation, they interview everyone that's involved, there's photographs, measurements taken. And they found that there were important OSHA workplace safety regulations that were violated. Our own investigation basically confirmed what OSHA had already found, and we believe that we have every -- every reason in the world to want to hold -- the companies that were responsible for the conditions on that site, we want to hold them responsible for this boy's death.

[End of Audio]



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