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West Virginia lawmakers examining oil and gas worker safety

As Marcellus Shale drilling activity continues to increase in West Virginia, some state lawmakers are beginning to examine worker safety, according to a report by MetroNews.

Last week several lawmakers met during an interim legislative committee meeting to discuss the safety standards for oil and gas operations. Some critics of the industry say that the standards aren’t strict enough, using the coal mining industry as a comparison.

Coal miners, for example, are required to take a 20 or 40 hour course depending on the type of surface or underground work they’ll be doing. Workers must then work alongside an experienced miner until they become fully certified. Corky DeMarco, executive director for the Natural Gas Association, told the committee there are comparable requirements for employees working on drilling rigs, which were developed in association with the industry and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Chris Lawrence reports that DeMarco said, “We entered into an agreement with OSHA on the safety protocol for the employees who work in this industry … Depending on what you’re doing in this industry you are required to have OSHA eight hour or 30-hour training.” The safety certification is issued by the International Association of Drilling Contractors and is mandatory for most major companies. However, the certification isn’t necessarily a requirement for employment.

Delegate Randy Smith, who works in the coal industry, said, “It’s a concern to me because what I’m hearing in recent months is we’re [the coal industry] over regulated and the gas industry is under regulated.” His greatest concern, according to Lawrence, is the lack of first responders in the event of a well site emergency. The most apparent safety issues are well pad fires. Although the industry works with local emergency responders, combating a well fire usually requires a specialized team, which are often few and far between.

Smith continued with the comparison between the coal mining and oil and gas industries by saying mine rescue teams are always less than two hours away from an active operation. The teams are comprised of coal miners that have been through rigorous training. DeMarco countered by saying how different a well fire and mine explosion are. He said, “I don’t know where you would put that individual team or how you could pull them out of 40 different locations and put them in one … I understand what you’re saying and yes, it would make sense, but I just don’t know how practically you could do that.” Smith cautioned that the industry should begin addressing these issues, otherwise the state will need to become involved.

To read the original report, click here.

In related news, NC fracking panel to revise some safety rules after public comments.


  1. I see it just the opposite. I worked in the coal business for 16 years and now in the gas business for 2 years. I see the natural gas business is much more safety conscious than the coal industry!

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