Driller at Center of Oklahoma Well Blast has History of Deadly Accidents

Driller at Center of Oklahoma Well Blast has History of Deadly Accidents
Patterson-UTI Energy, the contractor at the center of the deadliest U.S. drilling accident since the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, has the second worst worker fatality rate among its peers, according to federal workplace safety data.


HOUSTON, Jan 26 (Reuters) - Patterson-UTI Energy, the contractor at the center of the deadliest U.S. drilling accident since the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion in 2010, has the second worst worker fatality rate among its peers, according to federal workplace safety data.

Monday's disaster, which killed five workers drilling a well in eastern Oklahoma, put a spotlight on safety in the shale industry amid President Donald Trump's policy of boosting U.S. output of fossil fuels. Last month, the administration proposed scaling back offshore safety regulations imposed after the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 rig workers and caused a massive oil spill.

The cause of the Oklahoma blast, at a well being drilled for Red Mountain Energy by Patterson-UTI, has not yet been determined. The well's blowout preventer, equipment designed to seal a well in an emergency, was damaged by the explosion and failed to work as intended, authorities have said. Among offshore regulations the Trump administration wants to remove is a requirement for third parties to certify that safety devices work under extreme conditions.

Including Monday's incident, at least 13 workers have died at Patterson-UTI drilling sites in the past decade, according to a Reuters review of data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), whose functions include investigating workplace accidents.

Andy Hendricks, Patterson-UTI's chief executive, said in a statement earlier this week that "no one knows with certainty what happened, and it would be unwise to speculate." The company has made "significant efforts" in safety training and protective equipment "to instill a company-wide culture where safety is the top priority for each employee," a spokesman said.

Patterson-UTI's fatality rate is second only to rival Nabors Industries, which reported at least 20 worker deaths in the past decade, according to OSHA's fatalities and catastrophes report.

Over that same period, Helmerich & Payne - the onshore drilling company with the largest number of active rigs - has had five deaths, Precision Drilling Corp three, and Halliburton nine, according to the OSHA data.

Representatives from Nabors, Helmerich & Payne and Precision Drilling did not respond to requests for comment. A Halliburton spokeswoman called safety a core value and its highest priority.

Houston-based Patterson-UTI, formed more than a decade ago through the merger of two companies, currently has 148 rigs in operation, behind Helmerich & Payne with 213 rigs operating, according to data from researcher DrillingInfo. It bought U.S. drillers Seventy Seven Energy, which added 91 rigs to its fleet, and MS Energy Services last year.

When companies make numerous acquisitions, they face challenges in ensuring a cohesive safety culture, said safety experts interviewed for this article.

"It's hard to integrate culture. You can't just say, 'you stop doing this, and you start doing this,'" said Wayne Vanderhoof, president of consultancy RJR Safety Inc, declining to comment specifically on Patterson-UTI. He estimated it takes about two years for newly-combined companies to integrate their safety practices.

Patterson-UTI has been cited more than 110 times for "serious" safety violations in the past decade, according to OSHA, but only twice since 2015.

In September 2011, the regulator said it would fine Patterson-UTI $72,600 for four serious and two repeat safety violations, noting "the company repeatedly has exposed its workers to a variety of safety violations that could easily cause serious injuries."

That penalty came four months after it was cited for violations following the death of a worker in Cotulla, Texas.


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Craig Castille  |  January 30, 2018
You got regulations wrong! Federal Regulators still require 3rd party BOP verifications but are contemplating NOT having BAVOs, BSEE approved verification organizations. BAVOs will limit entry of good people, add excessive burden on Regulators, drive up cost and add NO practical value. The trust but verify culture will still exist.
Brian Sweeney  |  January 29, 2018
First and formost God bless the people and their families who lost their lives trying to make a living. I don't know the details, but it seems that cutting corners, cutting costs, has become the norm for the industry. This may not be the case this time , but I see it all the time in the Marcellus and Utica region. Hurry up, cut the cost of anything and get it done. Maybe we need to slow down and take a closer look at the whole picture.
Alan Fortune  |  January 29, 2018
WHY is this company still operating? Fines DO NOT deter ANY offender in any offence. Terminate the executive licences forever, and any other supervisors involved.
LEONARD HUMPHREY  |  January 29, 2018
Appears to be a screwup as there is enough safety equipment to control these type of problems aka blowout preventers, mud weight and others. Apparently an offset well had problems probably from the same formation so this group shpuld have been ready so the blame here goes all the way up if they were not ready. My sympathy to the families involved.
BrianMaingot  |  January 29, 2018
I note that there is no mention of who the service company was drilling the well if there was one. Was this a vertical well that Patterson-UTI was drilling, or was it a directional well? If it was a directional well who was the directional service company?
Richard  |  January 29, 2018
Not a very good hatchet job trying to drop in the reference to removal of 3rd party oversight of BOP’s utilized on federal leases. This did not apply in Oklahoma since onshore wells are regulated by the state and not the federal government. Not sure why you had to even raise this issue. Especially since the article reference the contractor and not the equipment.
Christian Cuen  |  January 27, 2018
Has the writer of this piece, and I use that term literally, calculated the amount of man hours worked in relation to the incidents? If he did he would find we have a very well established safety culture in the oil fields. Yes the work can be dangerous, but it’s our chosen profession and we all do our very best to see our friends and colleagues get home to their families safely. The writers views are so extremely narrow, I’ve killed literally dozens of wells just in the last several years without incident. Calculate wells killed to blowouts and you may find we do an excellent job in preventing incidents like this very sad tragedy.