Oil Rigs Across North America Plagued by Layoffs and Accidents

oil well
The number of active oil rigs in the United States has dropped dramatically in the past week from 1,223 to 1,143, according to the latest Baker Hughes North American Rotary Rig Count. The number of natural gas rigs has fallen as well.

Texas and North Dakota lost the most rigs last week. Texas is down 41 rigs and North Dakota is down 11. Colorado and Oklahoma were close behind, down eight and seven respectively.

Jobs are also being cut left and right for oil rig workers. Baker Hughes Inc. cut 60 jobs last week and plans to cut 7,000 in the first quarter of 2015 alone.

Dropping gas and crude oil prices are a major factor, but hazardous conditions may also be contributing to the shutdowns. In January, the owner of oil service company Legendary Field Services was killed, and an employee was injured, while trying to repair equipment at a QEP Resources oil well near Mandaree, ND.

According to reports filed by the Bismark office of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and office supervisor Eric Brooks, the two men were working on a tube in the well heater when the fluids inside ignited, burning both men and killing the owner. The OSHA investigation is ongoing.

The owner of the oil service company was the first oil field fatality reported in 2015. The last injury reported was 32-year-old Daniel Kintyhtt on Nov. 18, 2014. Kintytt received a fatal head injury after slipping and falling on an icy rig mat. Rig mats are portable platforms typically used to support equipment for operations like drilling, construction and camping.

Kintytt was also working on a rig in North Dakota. According to Brooks, oil field deaths have accounted for half of workplace fatalities in the state since 2010.

There have been relatively few accidents in North Dakota, however, compared to the state of West Virginia. Just last month, the ATEX Express pipeline that runs through Brooke County exploded, burning nearly 24,000 barrels of ethane. It’s the latest in a line of nearly two dozen accidents (some fatal) that have plagued the state since drilling began.

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