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Onshore Drilling Regulations Remain Lax Two Years After Deadly Oklahoma Rig Explosion

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Two years after a deadly explosion tragically killed five oilfield workers in Oklahoma, the state and federal regulations that govern onshore drilling in the United States remain lax and little has been done to prevent a repeat of that horrific disaster.

Oklahoma Rig Explosion Deadliest Since Deepwater Horizon

The January 22nd explosion outside of the small town of Quinton occurred shortly before 9:00 a.m., as Houston, Texas-based Patterson-UT was drilling a natural gas well for Red Mountain Operating of Oklahoma. The resulting fire sent a plume of smoke 50 feet into the air, caused the derrick to collapse, and eventually killed cattle in a nearby pasture.

The remains of those who died in the blast would not be recovered until the following afternoon.

On its two-year anniversary, the Oklahoma rig explosion remains the country’s deadliest drilling accident since the Deepwater Horizon explosion killed 11 offshore workers in April 2010.

Inadequate Regulation Contributed to Oklahoma Rig Explosion

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board has since blamed poor planning and corner cutting for multiple factors — including the blowout preventer failure, inadequate training, deficient well management, and a lack of emergency exits in the drillers’ cabin — that ultimately contributed to the workers’ deaths.

According to The Houston Chronicle, the Board also found that state and federal safety laws governing onshore drilling are inadequate, as are voluntary standards adopted by the American Petroleum Institute (API), the industry’s trade group.  A range of fixes were recommended to prevent similar disasters in the future, including better well control rules, tougher equipment standards, and improved employee training.

“Onshore is sort of a black hole,” Lauren Grim, a supervisory investigator at the Chemical Safety Board, told the Chronicle. “There’s not really a whole lot of rules and regulations for safety on the state and federal levels, and that’s what we’re trying to correct.”

Stronger Oklahoma Drilling Regulations Likely Years Away

Unfortunately, little has changed in the past two years. In fact, the API and state and federal regulators have only begun to consider the Board’s recommendations. Change – if it ever comes – is likely year’s away.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission – which regulates oil and gas drilling in the state – is expected to submit a response to the Board’s report in February.

“This is a complex issue looking at all the state laws and government regulations,” spokesman Matt Skinner told the Chronicle. “It’s a terrible tragedy obviously, but it doesn’t fit neatly into the current box of state law.”

The Commission’s jurisdiction is apparently limited, and any new drilling regulations would need to be passed into law by the Oklahoma Legislature. The legislative process could take several years, assuming state lawmakers are even willing to subject Oklahoma’s oil and natural gas industry to stricter oversight.

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