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Two-Year Inspection Reveals Unsuspected and Massive Threat to Oilfield Worker Safety


Oil and gas workers are already subjected to some of the most dangerous working conditions on the planet. In the course of a single day, workers face chemical exposures, fires, explosions, faulty equipment and even truck accidents. Now, The Associated Press has obtained data showing that the trains used to haul crude oil represent an even larger threat than just 80 tons of steel moving across a working oilfield.

Federal regulators began an inspection of oil train routes two years ago on the heels of a string of oil train accidents spanning the continent. These were not small incidents: a freight train that derailed in Montana spilled 27,000 gallons of oil because the track wasn’t securely fastened; unrepaired cracks in Virginia caused a derailment and explosion; broken bolts caused the exact same scenario in Oregon. The results of that inspection are finally available, and the news is not good.

How trains go off the rails

News OK reported, “Data… shows that tens of thousands of similar safety defects were found when government inspectors checked the rail lines used to haul volatile crude oil across the country. The defects included rails that were worn, bolts that were broken or loose or missing, and steel bars that had cracks… But these nearly 24,000 imperfections drew heightened attention because of a surge in recent years of domestic energy production that has increased rail shipments of oil and the number of major derailments.”

The defects were found across some 58,000 miles of oil train routes, an average of one major problem for every 2.41 miles of track. While that may not seem like an impressive number, the flaws aren’t evenly distributed. The majority of track wear comes from curves (where one rail takes more weight) and from stop-and-go motion (like depots and filling stations). This means that start and end points are most likely to incur damage, and therefore most likely to be the scene of an accident.

Negligence and accountability

When companies fail to adequately maintain rails, major accidents happen. From the same article, “’All of this is a call for continued vigilance,’ said Steven Ditmeyer, who reviewed the inspection data and directed the railroad administration’s Office of Research and Development for eight years. ‘One defect or one violation of the right kind can cause a derailment.’”

Oil and gas work carries enough risk; negligent transportation companies shouldn’t add to it. At Stipe Law, our Oklahoma oil and gas injury attorneys have been fighting for oil workers and their families for over sixty combined years. We understand how to investigate oil field accident cases, and our lawyers will fight for every dollar you deserve through diligent preparation and anticipating many of the arguments defense lawyers use. To learn how we can help you, call (918) 505-7741 or contact us today for a free consultation.