In a new series, "Danger Zone," EnergyWire reporter Mike Soraghan examines the safety record of the oil and gas drilling industry since the drilling boom. On today's The Cutting Edge, Soraghan previews the next installment in the series, which focuses on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's rules for drilling worker safety.
Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to The Cutting Edge. Oil and gas drilling safety is being called into question in a new E&E series. EnergyWire reporter Mike Soraghan joins me to talk about his reporting on the industry's safety record. Mike, the next installment in your outstanding Danger Zone series will run in Tuesday's EnergyWire. What have we learned so far and what tools have you been using to assess the safety record of the oil and gas drilling industry?
Mike Soraghan: Well, we started with OSHA investigative files that we obtained and also going through OSHA databases looking for relevant cases, and we went out and we visited a lot of these problem sites in North Dakota and Texas, sites where there's been problems with hydrogen sulfide, which is poison gas, and then when there's been fatalities. What we found is that the industry has more fatal oil and gas explosions than -- well, more fatal explosions than any other private industry. We also found that there's some trouble at these sites with these chemicals called volatile organic compounds. We know from some studies that there is -- that they are a problem for workers and can sicken them, but we've found some incidents where they may have been fatalities and were missed by -- the causes were missed by authorities.
Monica Trauzzi: So preview the next installment for us. It's focusing on OSHA and the fact that it exempted the oil and gas industry from many of the rules that relate to noise protection, machine safety and chemical explosions. What did you find?
Mike Soraghan: Well, for a long time, environmentalists have long criticized the idea that industry is exempt from any environmental rules. Not so many people know that the industry is also exempt from these worker safety rules that you mentioned, and a lot of it goes back about 30 years to an effort to actually be stricter on OSHA, but when that effort met resistance and fell apart, they actually ended up being less regulated than before, or less regulated than many other industries.
Monica Trauzzi: So what has this meant for safety since the drilling boom?
Mike Soraghan: Well, fatalities rose pretty steadily until 2012. Fortunately last year they dropped off, but public health experts say that this is a bad sign. If you -- if drilling companies aren't looking out for safety of their employees on site, they're probably not looking out for safety in the environment and the safety of people who live around sites.
Monica Trauzzi: Is there a push to change the rules? I mean, what's coming next?
Mike Soraghan: Well, there is a push in the Obama administration, or at least a suggestion to remove the exemption that industry has for these rules on chemical explosions, preventing chemical explosions. It has not been a high-profile fight. There really hasn't been that much of a discussion on safety, and that's kind of why we decided to dig into it.
Monica Trauzzi: Your reporting has gotten a lot of attention from government and industry folks. What kind of reaction have you received for the reporting?
Mike Soraghan: Well, the readership has been huge, and we've gotten a lot of good feedback from government and industry, and we can only hope that it makes things safer, that you have fewer people getting sick and we're talking about safety here, fewer people dying.
Monica Trauzzi: All right. We're going to look for that next installment on Tuesday in EnergyWire. Thank you for joining me.
Mike Soraghan: Thanks for having me.
Monica Trauzzi: More Cutting Edge coming next Friday. We'll see you then.
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