West Virginians at fracking sites at risk for injuries from explosions

In the summer of 2013 on an early Sunday morning, a gas explosion and fire at a northern West Virginia natural gas well burned five workers, two of whom eventually died from their injuries at only 37 and 45 years of age. The Hinterer 1H well at the Ruddy Alt pad in Doddridge County was under construction by Antero Resources, which had engaged three subcontractors for the work. Those hurt were contractor employees.

Shale Reporter interviewed a high company representative, who said that the workers had been almost done with the new well when methane gas ignited, but the source of the ignition was as yet unknown. Both federal and state officials immediately began investigating the incident.

According to the article, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA, the federal agency responsible for enforcing workplace safety laws and regulations, has six months to complete its investigation.

Hydraulic fracturing or fracking is the gas extraction method for which this well is designed. Fracking is a newer, controversial method of drilling for gas in the shale layer of earth by forcing water containing sand and chemicals into the shale to release the gas from resulting cracks.

West Virginia sits over the Marcellus Shale, a massive, ancient sediment mass that stretches under the surface of seven states. Obviously, the business of drilling for gas is inherently dangerous because of the risk of burns and other injuries from explosion and fire, but officials are also concerned about workers being exposed to dangerous chemicals.

In addition, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC is concerned about high levels of silica dust at fracking sites. Silica can cause silicosis, a potentially fatal lung disease, as well as other dangerous diseases.

In August 2013, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, known as DEP, lifted its ban on Antero's work at the site that had been in place since the accident, according to MetroNews, which also reported that Antero told the agency in a revised report that the incident had been caused by open hatches on wastewater tanks that had allowed a concentration of gas. DEP lifted the ban only under a number of safety precautions and other actions that Antero must take.

Seek legal advice

Any West Virginian injured in a gas or oil explosion, or whose loved one was killed in such an accident, should speak with a West Virginia personal injury attorney with specific experience working with these kinds of injuries. Legal counsel can advise such a victim about potentially responsible parties and legal remedies like a workers' compensation claim or lawsuit, depending on the circumstances.