There are deadly dangers in oilfield sites

A. M. JeffersonON Communications
There are deadly dangers in oilfield sites

PAWHUSKA — School is out and it is summertime in Osage County. Osage Nation Emergency Management wants to remind children and adults, young and old, that there are dangers in oilfield sites. The county is littered with oilfield equipment especially pump jacks and storage tanks as this is oil country, and people for some reason are lured to play around and even try to ride pump jacks. It might seem like common sense to some individuals to stay clear of these sites. Then on the other hand, it is not uncommon to hear adults talk about their antics when they were young and how they amused themselves on and around these areas. As a teenager explained it in a safety video produced by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, one of the attractions is that these are isolated places and you can do whatever you want.

The Oklahoma Energy Resource Board routinely campaigns through commercials and providing educational material to schools about safety awareness: Smart Beats Lucky Every Time. Unfortunately, there are those who are not lucky.


Just a few years ago, KOTV Channel 6 in Tulsa, reported on a 17-year-old boy who had to have a “field amputation” of his arm after being pinned and his arm crushed in the machinery. As the article explained, pump jacks today often are set on automatic timers since they operate with electricity rather than gas. These machines can start up with no warning. “Well owners are required to fence their machinery, but there is no requirement to hide or key the manual on-off switch.”

In addition to injuries or death from the machinery, toxic gases, such as hydrogen sulfide present dangers to anyone standing too close to oilfield sites. It is a colorless gas and occurs naturally in crude petroleum and natural gas. It is flammable, produces an odor similar to rotten eggs and is very poisonous. One can be overtaken by the fumes, burned by exposure, and even die.

Methane, while not toxic and common in the oil and gas industry, does pose hazards as well. One might associate it more with air pollution, as a greenhouse gas. But according to Safety Systems Technology, a fire and gas detection business, they report that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration shows there are risks when exposed to methane. The gas is odorless and colorless. It may react, “violently with chlorine dioxide and liquid oxygen” plus other hazardous chemicals. “When employees are exposed to methane gas there are a number of symptoms that can be present. These symptoms include drowsiness and unconsciousness.”

So, just hanging out at an oilfield site for fun or curiosity is unwise.

One tragedy involved a child who was looking into storage tanks near his home and was asphyxiated after getting stuck.


This is why oilfield employees and visitors are required to follow safety measures. OERB reports that such safety requirements include, but are not limited to protection for eyes, face, head and extremities; protective clothing which may also be flame-resistant; and respiratory devices.

These areas and machines to children appear attractive as a form of fun and exploration. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission reports that even hunters will use oil and gas sites as hunting blinds. OCC says that “in reality [these] sites are only for trained professionals.”

In the CSB safety video, it was explained on a diagram that the storage tanks contain crude oil at the bottom of the containers with vapors lingering above the liquid. When exposed to air, the situation has all the needed ingredients to become explosive and the slightest “spark-producing activity” such as an “open flame, cigarette, or static discharge” can cause an explosion.


• Counterweights weigh up to 20,000 pounds and will crush a human body without stopping. Falling off this beam or attempting to ride the weights can bring serious injuries or accidental death.

• The cables in front, which travel up and down, if grabbed by someone can cut off one’s hand(s).

• Electrical boxes, wires and components operate at high voltage. Anyone touching them could receive serious electrical shock.


If the above is not enough potential danger for death or injuries, there are slush pits. As Michael4Safety, a website created by parents who lost the child previously mentioned who died by suffocation, slush pits hold waste material. The chemicals in the liquid can burn anyone who falls in and drowning is also a possibility. Frac tanks, even when empty, may still hold some remnants of fluid which can produce deadly fumes. And pipelines are known to leak from corroding lines and those fumes can explode from anything spark-producing.


In addition to the safety education provided by entities such as OERB, CSB and Michael4Safety, CSB is “push[ing] for stronger laws and regulations to secure oilfield sites.” In the CSB safety video, the father of a teenager who died in an explosion explained that there was nothing to deter his son from hanging out at the site near their home. There was no fence. There were no signs explaining the dangers. “CSB spokesman Daniel Horowitz said the campaign [they are initiating] comes after their research found at least 36 teenagers and six young adults had died in similar explosions over [the] past 30 years.”

ONEM hopes that everyone has a safe summer. It is suggested one should educate himself or herself along with their family on the dangers of oilfield sites. If you would like to know more about ONEM visit the Osage Nation website at www.osagenation-nsn.gov or contact ONEM at (918) 287-5225 or 287-9707.

To learn more about oil field safety programs visit OERB’s website at www.oerb.com; kids and educators should visit http://duh.oerb.com. Another site for info is www.michael4safety.net. To learn more about the U.S. Chemical Safety Board and to view videos visit their website at www.csb.gov. To find videos from KOTV6 about the mentioned accident do an internet search: Teen Loses Arm in Oil Pump Jack Accident and Taxi Driver Saves Teen in Oil Pump Accident.