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Safety Questioned After Fracking Accident Kills One Worker and Seriously Injures Two

Safety Questioned After Fracking Accident Kills One Worker and Seriously Injures Two

As municipalities in New York consider whether to ban fracking or accept it in their communities, an industrial accident at a fracking site in Weld County, Colorado killed one worker and seriously injured two others. ABC News (11.13.14) reported that work crews were trying to thaw out a frozen high pressure water line when it ruptured causing about 2,500 to 3,500 psi (pounds per square inch of water pressure) to come out.

The fracking site was on an Anadarko Petroleum well lite. The injured crew worked for Halliburton. As a precautionary measure, Anadarko suspended all fracking operations in the area following the accident. Both the accident and the cause of the rupture were under investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), as well as others.

Municipalities in New York have the right to choose to ban the natural-gas extraction method. In June 2014, New York State’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, determined that each municipality has a right to decide whether or not to ban drilling. This was upheld in a 5-2 decision, reported The Wall Street Journal (6.30.14). The decision of the court in Matter of Norse Energy Corp. USA, v. Town of Dryden, 2014 NY Slip Op 04875, allows municipalities to use zoning laws to ban the hydraulic fracturing. More than 170 towns and cities in New York have either banned or passed a moratorium on fracking.

Fracking opponents argue that water supplies are threatened by the process, which drives millions of gallons of high pressure fluids underground to crack open the shale formations that hold natural gas. Fracking fluid contains water, chemical additives and sand. Injecting the fluid into the earth may also cause hazardous gas emissions and seismic activity near the wells.

Energy companies contend that fracking is safe when done properly.

Fracking must be safe for both workers and surrounding communities. Fracking has resulted in contamination of ground water and surface water supplies in places where the oil industry has used this extraction method. It has also resulted in serious injury to workers, as well as death.

Field studies by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) show that one the dangers hydraulic fracturing workers may be exposed to is dust with high levels of respirable crystalline silica. Silica is a serious health hazard. Breathing silica can cause silicosis. Silicosis is a lung disease where lung tissue around trapped silica particles reacts, causing inflammation and scarring and reducing the lungs’ ability to take in oxygen. Silica can also cause lung cancer and has been linked to other diseases, including tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and kidney and autoimmune disease, according to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA).

Workers who gauge tanks during oil and gas extraction flowback procedures may also be exposed to dangerous levels of benzene and other volatile chemicals, reported NIOSH. The agency released its findings in a blog post (8.2.14) that detailed exposure assessments for workers involved in fracking.

New York is the second state in the Northeast, after Pennsylvania, to give municipalities the ability to trump state rules and curtail fracking. Courts in Colorado are examining the same issue.

The ABC News story cited is “1 killed, 2 hurt in Weld County fracking site accident.”

The Wall Street Journal story cited is “New York Communities Can Ban Fracking, Court Rules.”

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