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CDC Report Spotlights Deadly Texas Oilfield Accidents
July 09, 2024

CDC Report Spotlights Deadly Texas Oilfield Accidents

By Jim Adler
July 09, 2024 • 6 min read

Texas is the nation’s leading state for oil production. It also leads the U.S. in the number of oilfield workers killed on the job, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The oil extraction industry has one of the highest rates of workplace fatalities and injuries due to the uniquely hazardous nature of the work. But it’s a common source of injury—vehicle accidents—that causes the most oil worker fatalities.

Many of the workers injured and killed in Texas oilfields are contractors or self-employed and don’t have access to workers’ compensation. Energy production areas like the Permian Basin and the Barnett Shale are also hotspots for traffic crashes that pose a threat to the motoring public.

Texas Oil and Gas Industry Breaks Records in 2023

The Unites States not only produced more crude oil than any nation in 2023—marking its six straight year of global oil production supremacy—but it produced more oil than any nation at any time over that period.

U.S. crude oil output hit a new monthly record high of over 13.3 million barrels per day in December. Much of this oil comes from the Permian Basin, America’s most productive oil basin, which straddles the Texas – New Mexico.

Texas is also home to major oil and gas formations in the Barnett Shale, Eagle Ford Shale, Anadarko Basin, Haynesville/Bossier Shale, and Granite Wash.

Texas oil and gas companies produced up to 5.6 million barrels per day in 2023 and a record 1.92 billion total barrels—42% of the national total. These companies reportedly paid $26.3 billion in state and local taxes and state royalties in FY 2023, $1.5 billion more than the previous FY and the highest total in Texas history, while employing more than 480,000 Texans.

The Human Costs of Oil and Gas Extraction

Much is made of the environmental costs of oil and gas extraction. But a new report from the CDC highlights the toll the industry takes on its workers.

The report, based on federal workplace data and other sources from 2014 to 2019, identified 470 deaths among oil and gas workers. Texas had the most fatal accidents of any state with 219. The leading causes of death across Texas were being struck by an object at a worksite (54 people) and motor vehicle accidents (53 people).

Overall, the most common fatal events were vehicle:

Around 30% of U.S. oil and gas fatalities occurred in the Permian Basin. More than 60% involved well-servicing company workers, followed by drilling contractors (17.9%) and operators (5.1%). The operational phases most associated with worker deaths were production (17.7%), roadway (16.2%), well work (14.3%), and drilling (14%). Roughly three-quarters of fatalities occurred to contract workers.

The report notes the “historically elevated fatality rates” of the oil and gas extraction industry and “unique safety and health hazards” that workers face, such as physically demanding jobs, exposure to hazardous chemicals and toxic gases, and long commutes and shifts. Fatal occupational injury rates in the industry are seven times higher than for all U.S. workers.

Oil and gas workers also suffer more severe on-the-job injuries than workers in other industries, and contract oil and gas extraction workers suffer the highest number of serious injuries. A 2024 report from the CDC found that, from January 2015 to July 2022, 2,101 severe work-related injuries were reported in the sector. These included 1,194 hospitalizations and 417 amputations.

Workers from the well-servicing subindustry accounted for 70% of the 2,101 injuries. Texas had 1,134 severe oil and gas extraction injuries, more than any other state and more than half (54%) of the recorded total.

Motor Vehicle Crashes Top Cause of Oilfield Deaths

Oilfield jobs are dangerous and demanding. Workers are surrounded by combustible, highly flammable, and toxic substances and pressurized equipment that is at risk of explosions and blowouts. They frequently perform their duties at heights, surrounded by heavy machinery and parts that can fall on and crush them. And many are sleep-deprived from putting in 12 or 14 hour shifts for up to 14 straight days.

Motor vehicle accidents claim more lives in the oil and gas extraction industry than any other type of accident.

Booming oilfields require armadas of heavy-duty trucks and 18-wheelers to carry sand, water, fuel, drilling equipment, and other supplies. Many oilfield trucks are even larger and more powerful than standard tractor trailers, designed with bulked up frames and lugged tires to carry heavy loads on rough roads. They also need more upkeep than trucks that drive primarily on paved roads.

In addition, the industry faces a chronic shortage of experienced drivers that is leading to many greenhorns piloting oilfield 18-wheelers. A report in The Dallas Morning News notes that the number of available drivers who have two or three years of experience driving big rigs in oilfields “has dwindled to nothing” and many companies are “substituting formal training for experience.”

Combine inexperienced and often-fatigued drivers operating oversized trucks, many of which are not properly maintained, on roads that were not designed for the traffic volume they’re now forced to carry, and you get what some call “Death Highway”—a reference to Route 285, a major conduit for the big rigs hauling supplies to and from West Texas oilfields.

“When you’ve been in the oilfield for ten to 11 days, working 14 hours a day, you just become so tired that you’re not thinking straight,” a veteran driver told the Morning News. “You’re just brain dead, because you’re living off four to six hours of sleep.”

The CDC report confirms that driving on West Texas roads is deadly. It cites TxDOT crash records showing 56 oil and gas extraction worker roadway fatalities from 2017 – 2019. Around 71% of these deaths resulted from multi-vehicle collisions. Half involved pickup trucks, 41 percent occurred in tractor trailer or semitrucks, and about 5% percent involved water haulers.

Of the 470 worker fatalities recorded during the study period, 80 resulted from multi-fatality incidents, and one half of these incidents were caused by crashes, resulting in 41 worker fatalities

Michael Smith, who manages the Permian Road Safety Coalition, told the Texas Tribune that oil and gas industry drivers are under intense demands.

“In the Permian Basin, you have an industry that moves at the speed of business,” said Smith. “That creates a tempo that is very fast, and it translates onto the ground and onto workers that feel the need to push the envelope.”

Almost 1 in 4 Texas Traffic Deaths Happen Near Oil Fields

Many oil and gas workers accept the inherently dangerous nature of their jobs as the price of a good paycheck. With average salaries of $120,000 – $130,000, the Texas oil and gas industry pays some of the highest wages in the state.

But the dangers of oilfield work often spill over onto public roadways like Route 285 that surround extraction sites. Nearly 1 in 4 Texas roadway deaths occur in the state’s five major energy production areas. In 2022, traffic crashes in these areas caused 1,072 deaths and 3,495, according to TxDOT, including:

The leading causes of these crashes are speeding and driver inattention, says TxDOT.

Throughout Texas, fatal truck crashes are on the rise. Even when adjusting for the high volume of truck traffic in the state, Texas has a comparatively high large truck fatality rate. There were more than 31,000 commercial truck crashes statewide last year. These crashes caused 620 fatalities and thousands of injuries.

Big Oil Accidents Demand a Big Law Firm

The oil and gas industry is big business in Texas—and a big source of harm, both to industry workers and members of the public. While the industry generates significant tax revenue that funds our roads, schools, and essential services, it also imposes costs on us, including costs from motor vehicle accidents.

Accidents that occur in and around Texas oilfields could be grounds for an industrial accident, car accident, 18-wheeler accident, or work injury claim. These claims could involve taking on large oil and gas companies such as ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Chevron.

Jim Adler & Associates has been helping injured Texans for more than 50 years. If you have questions about who may be liable for an oilfield-related accident, what compensation could be available, and the steps you should take next, call or contact us for a free consultation.

About Jim Adler

Jim Adler, also known as The Texas Hammer®, is an American trial attorney and owner of Jim Adler & Associates. He has been practicing law in Texas in the area of personal injury for 54 years.

Jim Adler graduated from the University of Texas School of Law where he received his Juris Doctor degree (J.D.) in 1967.

Jim Adler is a member of the State Bar of Texas, American Bar Association (ABA) and American Trial Lawyers Association. He is licensed to practice in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and U.S. District Courts of Texas. Read More

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