Safety failures triggered a massive explosion at a Patterson-UTI drilling site in eastern Oklahoma earlier this year, causing five workers to die of severe burns and blast injuries. Now federal regulators have assessed penalties of more than $118,000 for UTI-Patterson and two other companies involved with the drilling site.
The explosion and subsequent fire occurred Jan. 22 on a Patterson-UTI drilling rig near Quinton, Oklahoma. It was the largest and deadliest drilling blast to occur since BP’s Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010.
The remains of the five workers who died in the explosion were found in the “doghouse,” a section of the rig where drilling operations were controlled. A sixth worker who escaped the blast tried unsuccessfully to close the well’s blowout preventer, the last line of defense against an uncontrolled release of natural gas from underground deposits.
In addition to UTI-Patterson, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), cited Crescent Consulting LLC, and Skyline Directional Drilling LLC for exposing their employees to deadly explosion and fire hazards.
Although the penalties are small for three oil industry companies to share, OSHA says they are the maximum allowed for violations of the OSHA standards that led to the deadly blast.
OSHA said UTI-Patterson and the other companies failed to maintain proper controls while drilling the well, failed to inspect slow descent devices, and failed to implement emergency response plans.
“These employers failed to properly control hazards involved in oil and gas extraction activities, and the result was tragic,” said OSHA Oklahoma City Area Office Director David Bates. “Employers are required to monitor their operations to ensure workplace health and safety procedures are adequate and effective.”
Patterson-UTI has a long history of occupational safety violations and hazards. In 2008, a U.S. Senate Committee called Patterson-UTI “one of the worst violators of workplace safety laws,” for a series of worker deaths at the company’s drilling sites across Texas.
An Associated Press analysis of safety records found that at least 20 Patterson-UTI workers died on the job between 2002 and 2007. OSHA has investigated 31 Patterson-UTI workplace fatalities since 2001 – approximately one-third of all oil and gas industry fatalities in the same period of time.