Patterson-UTI, the company that was operating the Oklahoma gas well that exploded January 22 killing five people, has had prior fatal accidents. Over the last 10 years, 10 Patterson employees were killed in accidents at drilling sites in Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Texas, according to an Associated Press report. The company had more than 140 safety violations during that time period and, prior to 2008, was considered by a U.S. Senate committee to be “one of the nation’s worst violators of workplace safety laws,” according to the report.
— KMOV (@KMOV) January 24, 2018
Twenty-two workers were aboard the platform located near the small town of Quinton, about 100 miles southeast of Tulsa when it exploded around 8:45 a.m. The rig, owned by Red Mountain Energy of Oklahoma City and operated by Houston-based Patterson, had been erected just weeks before the blast occurred.
Seventeen of the workers escaped, one of them was airlifted to a Tulsa hospital. Killed in the blast were Roger Cunningham, 55, of Seminole, OK; Josh Ray, 35, of Fort Worth, Texas; Cody Risk, 26, of Wellington, CO; Matt Smith, 29, of McAlester, OK and Parker Waldridge, 60, of Crescent, OK.
Deadliest Oil & Gas Accident Since Deepwater Horizon
The incident is the oil and gas industry’s deadliest since 2010 when 11 people were killed when an explosion occurred aboard the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico. Early findings by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC), the state regulatory agency, indicate both explosions may have involved the same equipment malfunction – the failure of the blowout preventer.
Uncontrolled Gas Release, Failure of Blowout Preventer
Workers on the platform tried to engage the blowout preventer after an “uncontrolled gas release” but it failed to close, according to the OCC’s initial report. The agency has recommended plugging the well.
Chemical Safety Board Joins Investigation
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) announced January 25 that it will conduct its own investigation of the fatal explosion. The CSB team met with representatives from both companies and employees who were on the platform at the time of the explosion. Their initial focus is evidence collection and preservation, the agency said in a statement.
“As the investigation progresses, they’ll be taking a close look at safety measures and the equipment manufacturing process,” said Fred Pritzker, an explosion attorney who represents clients who have been injured and families who have suffered the wrongful death of a loved one in an explosion. “What we often see is that these tragedies were preventable,” Pritzker said.