Three companies have been fined a total of $118,000 by OSHA, largely for violations that exposed employees to fire and explosion hazards in which five workers were killed on a natural gas drilling rig in Pittsburg County on Jan. 22.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration hit Patterson-UTI Drilling Co. with the most citations (nine), tagging it with $73,909 in penalties. Crescent Consulting LLC received $36,586 in fines (five citations) and SkyLine Directional Drilling LLC with $8,148 (one citation).
“These employers failed to properly control hazards involved in oil and gas extraction activities, and the result was tragic,” David Bates, OSHA Oklahoma City area office director, said in a prepared statement. “Employers are required to monitor their operations to ensure workplace health and safety procedures are adequate and effective.”
The remains of the five workers who died in the explosion near Quinton were found in the “doghouse” — where drilling operations took place — on the derrick. A sixth worker unsuccessfully tried to close a blowout preventer before escaping by sliding down a guy wire.
Blowout preventers at drill sites are the last line of defense against volatile, uncontrolled releases of natural gas.
OSHA determined that Patterson-UTI and Crescent Consulting failed to maintain well control during drilling; have an emergency response plan for uncontrolled releases of hazardous chemicals during drilling; or provide a back-up employee alarm system where 10 employees were present and activate an employee alarm for emergency evacuation after the well blowout.
Patterson-UTI also failed to inspect an emergency descent device available for egress from the derrick, which wouldn’t extend because of a “mechanical deficiency” that prevented its use as an escape option.
On the day before the explosion and at times prior to it, all three companies were knocked for having a heat lamp within 10 feet of the well bore that wasn’t approved for use in that hazardous location.
All of Patterson-UTI’s citations were considered “serious.” Four of the five handed to Crescent were serious, as well as the one SkyLine received.
The OSHA news release states each company has 15 business days from receipt of the violations to either comply, request an informal conference with OSHA or contest the findings before an independent federal job safety review commission. The OSHA citations were issued July 17-18.
Patterson-UTI, the well site’s drilling contractor, defended itself in a statement Wednesday, first offering thoughts and prayers to the families and others affected by the tragedy.
“We appreciate the important work OSHA undertakes to help ensure safe and healthy working conditions, and we have fully cooperated in the investigation,” Patterson-UTI stated. “We have carefully reviewed the citation, we disagree with its findings, and we have filed a notice of contest with OSHA.
“We remain committed to providing a safe working environment for our employees and others we work with in the field.”
Crescent Consulting attended an informal conference to discuss their violations but haven’t settled nor contested yet, according to a U.S. Department of Labor spokesman. SkyLine Directional Drilling will attend an informal conference Tuesday.
A Crescent Consulting representative said the company didn’t have a comment at this time.
Requests for comment from SkyLine went unreturned.
The five workers who died were Roger Cunningham, 55, of Seminole; Josh Ray, 35, of Fort Worth, Texas; Cody Risk, 26, of Wellington, Colorado; Matt Smith, 29, of McAlester; and Parker Waldridge, 60, of Crescent.
The family and estates of the five deceased men each have filed wrongful death lawsuits in Pittsburg County District Court.
Preliminary investigative information previously made public by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board says the rig crew had pulled the drill pipe and associated drilling tools out of the well to change the drill bit at the time of the explosion.
OSHA announced the violations and fines in a news release Monday. There were several other citations listed that weren’t directly related to the explosion.
The violations involving well control and emergency descent device egress were under OSHA’s general-duty clause, a catch-all for when a hazard isn’t addressed by specific regulatory standards. Oil and natural gas drilling, servicing and production are exempt from a comprehensive package of federal safety standards that were implemented in the early 1990s after several chemical disasters, the Tulsa World has previously reported.
The well site’s operator, Red Mountain Energy, wasn’t listed in the OSHA violations. Oklahoma City-based Red Mountain previously said it didn’t have any employees on site when the explosion occurred.
Patterson-UTI is based out of Houston. Crescent Consulting and SkyLine Directional are headquartered in Oklahoma City.