story was originally published by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
The oil boom in North Dakota and elsewhere has helped the US become
the world's leading energy provider and has captured the attention of
Hollywood producers. It also has claimed the lives of dozens of oil
Now, that fallout from the boom is drawing renewed attention from government scientists.
In the largest study of its kind, the National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health, which investigates the causes of
workplace health problems, said it intends to examine the factors that
cause injuries and accidents in the oil fields in an effort to improve
Scientists from the institute will distribute questionnaires starting
next year to 500 oil field workers in North Dakota, Texas and one other
state that will be determined in the coming months.
"This is a high-hazard industry, and different states have different
levels of maturity when it comes to safety and health for this
workforce," said Kyla Retzer, a Denver-based epidemiologist with the
institute's oil and gas program, which will be administering the study.
A recent investigation
by Reveal showed how major oil companies avoid accountability for
workers' deaths in the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota and Montana. On
average, someone dies about every six weeks from an accident in the
Bakken—at least 74 since 2006, according to the first comprehensive
accounting of such deaths using data obtained from Canadian and US
regulators. The number of deaths is likely higher because federal
regulators don't have a systematic way to record oil- and gas-related
deaths, and the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration doesn't
include certain fatalities.
In response to Reveal's investigation, the federal agency pledged to
step up enforcement against major oil companies and scrutinize speed bonuses in the Bakken, which some critics fear undermine safety.