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Production Waste Solutions Fined Over Fatal Permian Basin H2S Poisoning

Oil pumping Unit at sunset time

An oil and gas company active on the Texas side of the Permian Basin has been fined in connection with a fatal hydrogen sulfide (H2S) poisoning.

Oilfield Worker Fatally Inhaled H2S Near Orla, Texas

The tragedy occurred in September 2022 when an unidentified oilfield worker fatally inhaled H2S gas near a sump pit at a waste treatment and disposal facility operated by Production Waste Solutions near Orla, Texas.

On March 15th, the U.S. Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) fined the Andrews, Texas-based company nearly $40,000 for six workplace safety violations that allegedly contributed to the worker’s death:

  • Exposing employees to inhalation hazards.
  • Not training employees on hazards associated with H2S exposure.
  • Failing to provide a quick body drench or eye flush station for employees in the immediate work area where corrosive materials were present.
  • Not performing a hazard assessment to determine if personal protective equipment was needed.
  • Failing to protect employees from fall hazards of more than 4 feet.
  • Not protecting employees from contacting energized circuits.

“Hydrogen sulfide exists in oil and gas deposits, and it occurs naturally in sewers, manure pits, well water, and oil and gas wells, which is one of the reasons work in confined spaces is potentially dangerous,” explained OSHA Area Director Diego Alvarado in El Paso, Texas. “This terrible loss could have been prevented if Production Waste Solutions LLC had followed established safety procedures and provided federally required training and equipment.”

Over Half of Texas Sour Gas Wells Lack Necessary Permits

This was not the first time an oil and gas worker succumbed to H2S poisoning.

In 2019 alone, sour gas was implicated in four oil and gas fatalities, including the tragic deaths of an oilfield worker and his wife on the northwest side of Odessa. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board later faulted  Aghorn Operations for failing to require the wearing of H2S monitors, a malfunctioning H2S warming beacon, the absence of a written training process for H2S leaks, and for neglecting to ensure proper ventilation.

Unfortunately, regulators in Texas have never done enough to protect oilfield workers from this well-recognized occupational hazard. In fact, in January 2022, a report published by EarthWorks indicated that 51% of wells emitting H2S gas in RRC District 8 — which encompasses most of the Permian Basin — did not have required permits intended to prevent harm from sour gas released by oil and gas production.

“Railroad Commission regulation says that if they are going to be exposed to it, they should be trained on how to handle it, how to act safely around it,” Jack McDonald, the report’s author, told Texas Public Radio. “However, in practice, our report shows that potentially some operators are not receiving that training. Moreover, our report has documented numerous instances where OSHA has found that operators were instructing workers to act in unsafe ways and therefore increasing their risk of hydrogen sulfide exposure.”

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