Washington, DC, June 14, 2006 - The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) today announced it will pursue an investigation into the June 5, 2006, fatal oilfield incident at Partridge-Raleigh Oilfield in Raleigh, Mississippi, sixty miles southeast of Jackson.
Around 8:30 a.m. on Monday, June 5, 2006, three workers died and one worker suffered broken bones while attempting to install new piping to connect two 400-barrel capacity oil production tanks and one salt water tank to a 500-barrel capacity power oil tank. All four workers were employed by Stringer Oilfield Services.
CSB investigators arrived at the oilfield on Tuesday, June 6, 2006 to conduct an assessment of the incident site. They conducted interviews with eyewitnesses, who describe the four workers standing on top of the production tanks, preparing for the new piping installation just before the incident occurred. As one worker lit a welding tool, explosive vapors in two of the tanks likely ignited, causing two rapid explosions that threw one worker over twenty-five feet from the tank and scattered debris as far as 130 feet away. Emergency responders found the welder, the sole survivor of the blast, hanging from one of the oil tanks. He used fall protection equipment prior to starting his work.
The CSB has investigated similar incidents involving flammable vapors in aboveground storage tanks and welding tool use at a wastewater disposal facility in Daytona Beach, Florida, where two workers died earlier this year, and in 2001 at an oil refinery in Delaware City, Delaware, where one worker died. The agency also assessed an incident in Palestine, Texas, in 2003, in which three teenagers were killed while standing on top of an oil tank that exploded. They were using a cigarette lighter to see inside an oil tank filled with flammable oil distillate.
The agency has also investigated incidents involving explosions and fires at oilfields in Louisiana in 1998, which resulted in four worker fatalities, and Texas in 2003, which resulted in three worker fatalities. In each case, a lack of hazard recognition played a role in the worker deaths.
Failure to recognize the hazards posed by use of welding tools in a flammable vapor environment likely contributed to the incident at Partridge-Raleigh. Failure to manage those hazards with well-established, safe work practices could have also contributed to the incident. During initial interviews with CSB investigators, Stringer and Partridge-Raleigh employees stated that maintenance workers regularly tested for flammability in oil tanks by lighting and inserting torches into open hatches on tanks prior to welding. The CSB investigation of this incident will discuss appropriate flammability testing equipment and procedures.
CSB Chairman Carolyn W. Merritt said, "The Board believes this explosion emphasizes the serious need for thorough written safety procedures and worker training at oil fields and all facilities where flammable vapors and welding activities may coexist. To ensure worker safety, companies must be vigilant about using safe testing procedures and equipment."
The onshore extraction subsector of the oil and gas industry experiences one of the highest fatality rates of all major industries, according to a March 2005 paper (Upstream Oil and Gas Fatalities: A Review of OSHA's Database and Strategic Direction for Reducing Fatal Incidents) authored by government and industry authorities and presented at a Society of Petroleum Engineers conference.
In 2004, the onshore extraction subsector of the oil and gas industry experienced 43.9 fatalities for every 100,000 workers. This equates to approximately one fatality every four days. This rate is over eight and a half times higher than the average fatality rate for all industries in the United States. In comparison, the coal mining industry had a fatality rate of 29.9 fatalities for every 100,000 workers in 2004.
The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The agency's board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in safety management systems, regulations, and industry standards.
The Board does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. Visit our website, www.csb.gov.
For more information, contact: In Jackson, Public Affairs Specialist Kara Wenzel, 202-577-8448 (cell), or Jennifer Jones 202-329-5335 (cell).