The remains of five men who were working on a gas rig that exploded January 22 in eastern Oklahoma’s Pittsburg County have been recovered. 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. Their bodies were found in an office area of the rig that was located near the small town of Quinton, about 100 miles southeast of Tulsa.
Twenty-two workers were aboard the platform at the time of the explosion. Seventeen of the workers escaped, one of them was airlifted to a Tulsa hospital.
Erected three weeks ago, the platform owned by Red Mountain Energy of Oklahoma City was being operated by Houston-based sub-contractor Patterson-UTI when the explosion occurred around 8:45 a.m. Witnesses said flames shot 50 feet into the air and the intense heat of the fire, which burned for hours, crumpled the derrick and completely destroyed the rig.
Three of the men who died, Josh Ray, Cody Risk and Matt Smith were Patterson employees. Roger Cunningham and Parker Waldridge worked for other contractors whose names have not yet been released. Risk, the youngest member of the crew, began working for Patterson a few weeks ago. Josh Ray leaves behind a wife and young daughter.
Oklahoma Oil and Gas Industry Deaths
A 2010 study found that Oklahoma was one of three states, along with Louisiana and Texas with the highest number of oil and gas work-related fatalities. In 2008, there were 21 oil and gas work-related deaths in Oklahoma, a 91 percent increase over five a five-year period, according to Oil and Gas Industry Fatal and Nonfatal Occupational Injuries, a 2010 report by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Louisiana, there were 13 oil and gas work-related deaths in Louisiana, a 30 percent increase over a five-year period, while Texas reported 41 deaths – a 21 percent increase over five years.
Federal investigators, including a team from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), are working with state regulatory and environmental officials on an investigation of the explosion. “They’ll be taking a close look at safety measures,” 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.