Black Gold: The Danger of the Oil Industry Beyond the Environment
Written by Sara Moore
The oil industry in Oklahoma sparks debates over climate change, causes earthquakes, and inspires Oklahoma Senators to bring snowballs into the US Capitol. However, environmental harm isn’t the only danger posed by the Oklahoman economy’s dependence on oil. On January 22nd, a violent explosion overwhelmed an oil rig in Eastern Oklahoma. It appears to be the deadliest oil accident since 2010. According to the Houston Chronicle, the victims included Josh Ray, 35, of Fort Worth; Cody Risk, 26, Wellington, Colo.; and Matt Smith, 29, McAlester, Okla.; who worked for Patterson-UTI; Parker Waldridge, 60, Crescent, Okla.; and Roger Cunningham, 55, Seminole, Okla., who worked for other contractors. This is not the first oil accident in Oklahoma, and it will not be the last.
Working on rigs is dangerous and grueling. It is often a signal of masculinity, as the road to a hard-earned dollar typically is. Asking questions is often discouraged and complaints aren’t acceptable. Rick Moore, my father, worked on a rig as a young man. While his experience was decades ago, the industry hasn’t changed drastically. Dangerous conditions persist, despite past safety reforms and pressure from Congress and implementing agencies. Shifts are often 12-14 hours for weeks and weather conditions are irrelevant, according to NPR. He describes, “being up in the derrick 100 ft. at the top of the rig pulling back heavy pipes and racking them in the middle of the night in the coldest part of the winter with sleet hitting my face… having to come out of the safety harness and cling, crawling to frozen icy steel to retrieve a fallen stand of pipe was really uncomfortable…you learn to be constantly vigilant because the many moving machines will crush you.”
Human error exacerbated by exhaustive conditions can lead to horrific accidents. When there is an increase in oil rigs, there is an increase in demand for new workers. For an inexperienced worker with little sleep to stay calm and focused in tense circumstances can be difficult and deadly. This causes contracting companies to hire less experienced employees, which increases the rate of accidents. The drive to meet the demand of the consumers and the company only perpetuates these dangers. There is a lot of money to be made and low access to skilled workers is not often considered a limiting factor. Depending on the economic demand for oil workers, the death rate can rise and fall. According to NPR, after the 2008 recession, fewer inexperienced workers were needed because there was less demand for oil workers and the death rate nearly halved.
Just this December, Pres. Trump signed an executive order to rollback certain oil rig safety regulations according to NY Times. This is intended to allow for more economic gain for oil companies by reducing the focus on abiding by regulation. These safety rules that at least seek to mitigate the risk of accidents are perceived as costly. Interest groups threaten oil jobs if regulation persists. This move is alarming; regulation is essential to prevent death rates from rising disturbingly high. There is a perception that any regulation will cause American Companies to lose energy dominance. However, this is no excuse for the relinquishment of safety concerns. Additionally, oil accidents and spills can be public relations disasters, making domestic oil face more hurdles than before. Relaxing the regulation in place is a gross miscalculation on the part of the Trump Administration.