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Was the Drilling Company Negligent in Five Oil-Rig Deaths?

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On Monday, January 22, 2018, an explosion rocked an oil rig south of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Reports showed that 16 employees escaped with minor injuries, with one employee airlifted to a nearby hospital with burn injuries. Five more employees, however, were too close to escape and were originally categorized as missing.

The next day, according to CNN, Pittsburg County (Oklahoma) Sheriff, Chris Morris, reported at a press conference that search crews had found the remaining five employees. Tragically, the employees did not survive. The cause of the explosion had not yet been determined at the time of this writing, though the Oklahoma Corporation Commission reported that there was an uncontrolled release of gas that caught fire. They added that an employee attempted to shut down the well, but was unable to.

Oil Drilling Company Has a History of Neglecting Worker Safety

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has opened an investigation into the incident. Red Mountain Operating owns the well, and Patterson-UTI Energy was drilling it.

Patterson-UTI released a statement concerning the event that read, in part, “All of us at Patterson-UTI are mourning those who lost their lives following the incident in Pittsburg County, Oklahoma. There is nothing more important to us than the safety of our employees and others we partner with in the field. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected and their loved ones.”

Yet this isn’t the first safety issue that Patterson-UTI has faced. Reuters reported that including Monday’s incident, “at least 13 workers have died at Patterson-UTI drilling sites in the past decade,” according to a review of OSHA’s data. NPR reports that in 2008, the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions subcommittee “identified 12 deaths at Patterson-UTI drilling sites in Texas, alone.” OSHA data also indicates that the company has been cited more than 110 times for serious safety violations over the past 10 years.

Patterson-UTI is headquartered in Houston, and currently has 148 rigs in operation. It has been expanding over the past few years, acquiring Seventy Seven Energy and MS Energy Services in 2017.

Oil Drilling Company Has a History of Neglecting Worker Safety

The bodies of the five victims were found in an area called the “dog house,” which is a room often used as an office on the rig floor. (The fire is believed to have originated in that area.) Three of the employees were from Oklahoma, one from Colorado, and one from Texas, with ages ranging from 26 to 60 years old.

On January 26, 2018, the family of one of the men—29-year-old Matthew Smith—released a statement expressing their appreciation for the support of friends and neighbors, adding, “Our world…is forever changed.” They described Matthew as a “good man” and a “rare find,” stating he had “left a space in our lives that will never be filed.” He left behind a wife and young son.