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OSHA Fines Patterson-UTI, Other Drillers for Role in Deadly Oklahoma Rig Explosion


The U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has cited 3 drilling companies for their role in a rig explosion that tragically killed 5 Oklahoma oilfield workers last January.

Patterson-UTI, Other Drillers Hit with Maximum OSHA Penalties

Patterson-UTI Drilling, Crescent Consulting LLC, and Skyline Directional Drilling LLC face fines totaling $118,643, the maximum penalties possible, in connection with the blast.

OSHA cited Patterson-UTI and Crescent Consulting for failing to maintain proper controls while drilling a well, inspect slow descent devices, and implement emergency response plans. All three companies were cited for failing to ensure that heat lamps in use were approved for hazardous locations.

“These employers failed to properly control hazards involved in oil and gas extraction activities, and the result was tragic,” OSHA Oklahoma City Area Office Director David Bates said in a statement announcing the enforcement action. “Employers are required to monitor their operations to ensure workplace health and safety procedures are adequate and effective.”

Uncontrolled Release of Natural Gas, Blowout Preventer Failure Led to Deadly Explosion

The January 22nd explosion was reported around 8:45 a.m., just west of Quinton and about 100 miles southeast of Tulsa, at an oil and gas drilling site operated by Oklahoma City-based Red Mountain Operating.

The resulting fire sent thick plumes of black smoke and flame 50 feet into the air. Heat generated by the inferno eventually caused the derrick to collapse, spreading flames to the surrounding area and even killing cattle in a nearby pasture.

A preliminary report from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission indicated that an uncontrolled release of natural gas ignited a fire at the rig. Employees were unable to activate the well’s blowout preventer when the blind rams failed to close.

Remains of Deceased Workers Recovered a Day Later

While 17 of 22 workers onsite at the time were able to escape unhurt or with only minor injuries, 5 men were reported missing immediately after the blast. Their bodies would not be recovered until the following afternoon.

The deceased were later identified as:

  • Matt Smith, 29, of McAlester, Oklahoma
  • Parker Waldridge, 60, of Crescent, Oklahoma
  • Roger Cunningham, 55, of Seminole, Oklahoma
  • Josh Ray, 35 of Fort Worth, Texas
  • Cody Risk, 26, of Wellington, Colorado

OSHA Fines Piling Up for Patterson-UTI

This not the first time OSHA has cited Houston, Texas-based Patterson-UTI in connection with a deadly drilling accident.

In fact, the company has faced nearly $367,000 in fines over the past decade for more than 140 safety violations.

A review of OSHA data conducted by Reuters shortly after the Oklahoma explosion found that 13 workers – including the 5 killed in January – had died at Patterson-UTI’s drilling sites during the last 10 years.

At least 20 Patterson-UTI employees died on the job between 2002 and 2007. None of its competitors had more than 5 fatal accidents during the same period.

A U.S. Senate report published in 2008 characterized the company as one of the nation’s worst violators of workplace safety laws, noting that 12 workers will killed at Patterson-UTI sites in Texas from 2003 through 2007.

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