A massive natural gas rig explosion that killed five men and burned another in Eastern Oklahoma Monday, Jan. 22, was caused by an uncontrolled release of gas from a well during drilling operations, state regulators said.
The accident – the deadliest drilling rig explosion to occur since BP’s Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010 – happened around 9 a.m. at a well site operated by Patterson-UTI in Pittsburgh County, Oklahoma.
Of the 22 workers on the well site at the time of the rig explosion, 17 were able to escape. Five others on the rig were classified as missing until about 2 p.m. the following day when their bodies were recovered from the rig’s “dog house,” a room on the floor of the rig that the drilling crew typically uses as an office.
According to Oklahoma City’s KFOR-TV Channel 4, local official identified the victims as Josh Ray, 35; Matthew Smith, 29; Cody Risk, 26; Parker Waldridge, 60; and Roger Cunningham, 55. Patterson-UTI said it employed three of the victims.
The worker who suffered burn injuries was flown to a hospital in Tulsa for treatment.
According to the Associated Press, a total of 10 fire departments, the Pittsburg County Sheriff and Emergency Management departments, and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol responded to the explosion, which triggered grass fires on the surrounding land.
An initial report by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) says that an employee attempted to shut down the well before the explosion but couldn’t. The Commission did not say what may have caused the uncontrolled release.
An OCC spokesman told the AP the agency has been in contact with the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the EPA, adding that its own role was for the most part environmental.
“In terms of the investigation into anything that is pinpointed as a cause of a workplace accident that’s (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration),” the spokesman told the AP.
The AP reported it tried to contact OSHA but that the agency was unable to be reached because of the government shutdown.