This week’s deadly gas rig blast near Quinton that killed 5 workers is being described as the nation’s deadliest oil and gas accident since the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Eleven workers died in the Deepwater tragedy. And now the rig operator is defending the company’s safety training record.
While the State Medical Examiner works to formally identify the victims of the explosion and fire near Quinton, federal records are not painting a good picture of the history of the drilling rig contractor Patterson-UTI of Houston. The Associated Press reported federal safety records revealed 10 workers have died in the past ten years at well sites linked to Patterson-UTI.
Other fatalities at Patterson-UTI operations happened at drilling sites in Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Texas. The company was also fined nearly $367,000 in the past decades for more than 140 safety violations.
Three of the five workers killed this week were employees of the company. The Houston Chronicle called the tragedy a setback to the company’s efforts to improve what had been one of the worst safety records in the oil and gas industry.
Since 2000, Patterson-UTI had one of the worst safety records in the country and experienced more on-site fatalities than any other U.S. energy company. It was so bad that in 2008, a U.S. Senate Committee chaired by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts reported a dozen workers had died at the company’s Texas drilling sites from 2003 through 2007.
The accidents didn’t cease after the report, although they’ve been less frequent, according to records from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration reported the Chronicle. One worker was crushed in November 2010 at a rig site southwest of San Antonio near Cotulla. In August 2011, there was another fatality at a Patterson rig near Carrizo Springs.
In April 2012, a worker in South Texas’ Eagle Ford shale fell 50 feet to his death from a Patterson rig, which federal inspectors later noted had “excess crude oil or oil-based liquids visible on the beams.” Last year, in August, there was a fatal accident at a Patterson-UTI rig site near Rankin in West Texas.
Houston-based Patterson-UTI said in a statement it has embraced safety improvements and spent millions of dollars in recent years on worker training and protective equipment.