The United States of America has been producing oil and gas since the early 19th century. In 2018, the US produced around 669 million metric tons of oil and approximately 832 billion cubic meters of natural gas. And as of 2018, it was the world's ninth-largest oil reserve and the fifth-largest natural gas reserve. It’s worth mentioning that the US is both the world's largest consumer of oil and the world's largest consumer of natural gas, consuming nearly 920 million metric tons of oil in 2018 and around 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
Due to the relatively high costs of oil and gas production in the country, the recent oil glut has been quite problematic for many US-based production projects. But technological advancements have led to the shale oil and gas projects to be increasingly viable to the extent that shale oil production accounts for more than half of the crude oil production in the country. This helped make the US become the world's largest producer of oil as of 2018. The US was producing three million barrels of oil per day more than Saudi Arabia, which impacted the US economy as well as its energy security.
The oil and natural gas industry supports 10.3 million jobs in the United States and nearly 8% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product. On average, the natural gas and oil industry accounts for almost 16% of all industry capital expenditures during that period, which is more than the utilities and transportation industries combined.
The number of workers in the natural gas and oil industry rose by 500,000 to 10.3 million, which accounts for 5.6% of total US employment.
The industries in the Oil and Gas extraction subsector operate and/or develop oil and gas field properties. It includes exploration for crude petroleum and natural gas, operating separators, emulsion breakers, desilting equipment, drilling, completing, and equipping wells and field gathering lines for crude petroleum and natural gas. It also involves other activities in the preparation of oil and gas, including shipment from the producing property. The subsector also includes the production of crude petroleum, the mining and extraction of oil, and the production of natural gas, sulfur recovery, as well as the recovery of hydrocarbon liquids.
Here is the breakdown of employment concerning Mining, Quarrying, and Oil and Gas Extraction:
According to ACS estimates, the number of people in the Oil & Gas Extraction subsector has been growing at a rate of 20%, from 106k people in 2017 to more than 140k people today.
As with all other major industries, there’s always a concern for safety, and the oil and gas industry is no stranger to this. To describe the fatal events among oil and gas workers, CDC analyzed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), and the data showed this:
From the above table, it’s understood that transportation and handling objects and equipment make up the most amount of fatalities in this industry. This can be curbed by taking the appropriate steps to ensure that the staff of the organization is fully aware of the hazards at the workplace and are equipped with the knowledge and gear to tackle these problems.
There are a few things that you can do to ensure your employees remain protected and safe while extracting oil and natural gas. Here are some of them:
Highway incidents are one of the main causes of oil and gas employee fatalities. In the oil and gas industry, the transportation-related incidents result in four out of every 10 fatalities. Irregular and long work hours, driving on secondary or unpaved roads as well as traveling in inclement weather conditions are some of the main contributors to these incidents.
In order to curb this, you need to establish and enforce a driver safety policy that helps employees to recognize driving hazards like in-vehicle distractions, driver fatigue and deteriorating weather and road conditions. To reduce these occurrences, you need to ensure that company-owned vehicles are appropriate and properly maintained, seat belts are worn while traveling and thoroughly check employee driving records periodically.
The changing nature of oil and gas sites requires everyone to be constantly aware of their surroundings. Moving vehicles, high-pressure hoses and lines, heavy equipment, overhead cranes and cables all contribute to the second leading cause of workplace injuries in the oil and gas industry.
Unfortunately, hand injuries are common in the Oil and Gas industry, and according to a study conducted by the Department of Labor, injuries to the hands alone were 23% of all injuries, making them the highest preventable injury. There is a study that says the cost of one disabled hand or finger ranges from $540 to $26,000 per patient. More serious upward extremity injuries average around $730,000 per accident.
Three out of five on-site injuries are caused by caught-in, caught-between, or struck-by hazards. One way to go about this would be to provide your employees with proper Personal Protective Equipment. The use of heavy-duty gloves can help reduce the number of serious injuries sustained by workers, like crushing, pinching, cut and puncture hazards. Workers involved in drilling, transportation, construction and refining face the same problems, so by providing these safety gear to your employees, you ensure they remain protected against these issues.
The average work days missed for hand injuries is normally five, while older workers who experience the same injuries require 12 to 14 days to recover. Hand injuries don’t just cost employers and employees missed days - the average hand injury claim costs more than $6,000 in recent years while the lost-time workers’ compensation claims have exceeded that, leading to an average of $7,500.
Additionally, engineering controls like the alarms on vehicles, whip checks on high-pressure hose lines, and the physical barriers around storage areas can help promote awareness of the various hazards in the workplace. The use of signages and temporary barriers can be used to increase the visibility of new or changing hazards. It can help reinforce what has already been taught at training and during toolbox talks.
Open flames, idle engines, site lighting, and hot work are a few of the fire hazards that can be easy to spot at oil and gas sites. Hazards such as flammable vapors and hydrogen sulfide can be easy to detect, but those aren’t the only fire and explosion hazards in the oil and gas industry. Static electricity and extreme weather conditions don’t come with a smell. They can be much harder to predict, and they can also contribute to fires and explosion risks.
Flammable vapors can be released from holding tanks, wellbores, production equipment, shale shakers, generators and vehicles. When there’s a higher prevalence of these vapors, there’s a higher likelihood that an ignition source such as static, hot surfaces or even frictional heat can be more than enough to start a fire or spark an explosion.
You need to monitor weather conditions, including temperature, lightning, wind and humidity, as that is your first line of defense. You should also monitor oxygen levels and flammable lower explosive limits throughout the site. It’s recommended to install shutdown systems, intake flame arrestors and exhaust spark arrests on machinery and equipment to provide a warning that conditions are approaching unsafe levels and to provide protection from ignition courses. Engineering and administrative controls coupled with top-notch and appropriate PPE for everyone work in tandem to help avoid and prevent fires and explosions.
In addition to chemical hazards, the oil and gas employees face other types of physical hazards. Due to many sites being outdoors and in large, open areas, confined spaces are a physical hazard, and are a harmful environment that can be overlooked.
Containers and storage tanks, mud and reserve pits and areas around wellheads can all be considered as confined spaces. Employees involved in this work need to be properly trained and aware of how hazards like asphyxiation, entrapment, and ignition of flammable vapors can quickly increase in these confined spaces.
Uncontrolled electrical, hydraulic or mechanical energy can also turn out to be a harmful environment. Even if the equipment is properly designed, installed, maintained and grounded, if it is not operated correctly, injuries and fatalities can still occur. You need to clearly mark ground connections, post operating procedures and strictly adhere to lockout/tagout procedures prior to making repairs.
In a study of fatal falls conducted by the National Institute of Health, 86% of victims were not using appropriate fall protection. For those who were wearing a fall protection harness, around 63% of those falls occurred because the harness was not connected to an anchor point, and most of the fatal falls were from a range of more than 30 feet.
Working in the oil and gas industry is physically demanding, and it is sometimes performed in extreme weather conditions—both hot and cold. The work also requires lifting heavy objects, pushing or pulling large loads, reaching overhead, bending and repetitive tasks that lead to ergonomic injuries. When you pair any of these ergonomic woes with the demands of the fast-paced job and the need to wear a fall harness, you get the perfect recipe for problems.
Not guarding openings, ladders, open pits, floor holes and stairs is a major violation that is cited during OSHA inspections. It is necessary to install fences, railing and other forms of fall protection in addition to using harnesses for all workers who work at elevation, as it can help decrease the chance of fatal falls.
In addition to these common hazards, facilities also need to be on the lookout for specific hazards at each site, evaluate risks and make a plan of action for them. Prefabricated risk assessments from a corporate office aren’t enough. Oil and gas sites are dynamic, and risks can change from hour-to-hour, day-to-day or on a weekly basis. Keeping plans and procedures updated and communicating changes with employees are vital to ensuring everyone is aware of the workplace hazards so that they are more prepared to avoid them and prevent any accidents.