Causes of Drilling Accidents

Water Transport from Gas Fracking Makes West Virginia Roadways more Hazardous

Hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking) is a booming industry in West Virginia. Oil and gas exploration through this unconventional method has rapidly increased in recent years in the Mountain State. Energy-rich areas such as the Marcellus Shale formation are thought to contain vast natural gas reserves, prompting unprecedented amounts of out-of-state and foreign investments in the energy industry.

Late last year, China Energy Investment Corporation made a commitment to invest $83.7 billion in various energy projects over the next two decades in West Virginia. This was widely viewed as a big win for the Mountain State, with the potential to create tens of thousands of new jobs and provide a major boost to the local economy. While the new energy-related jobs are a welcome development, there are some downsides to this increased activity that many are overlooking.

The Fracking Process

West Virginia is one of 34 states that have active oil and natural gas wells. There are roughly 60,000 active wells in the Mountain State, and at this point, less than 3,000 of them are hydraulically fractured. When the anticipated foreign investment materializes, the number of fracked wells is expected to skyrocket.

The hydraulic fracturing process is far different from conventional methods of drilling for oil and natural gas. It starts by injecting a fluid into subterranean rock formations using high levels of pressure.

This fluid is made up of mostly water and sand, with up to 2% being composed of various chemical additives. The fluid produces a network of fractures inside the rock formations, allowing the natural gas and oil inside the rocks to be extracted. After the natural gas or oil is successfully extracted, the fluid is returned through the well and is either reused or disposed of.

Fracking is a highly water-intensive process. The water must be acquired, mixed with sand and chemical additives, trucked into the production site, injected into the well, then taken out of the well and reused or trucked to a disposal site. According to the New York Times, millions of gallons of water and between 500 and 1500 trucking trips are required for each well that is hydraulically fractured.

Water Transportation Issues in West Virginia

The China Energy investment could produce thousands of additional hydraulically fractured wells in West Virginia in the coming years. This will require billions of gallons of water and millions of trucking trips. This will put an enormous strain on the roadways in the Mountain State, leading to a traffic nightmare and a likely increase in trucking accidents.

West Virginia is a largely rural and mountainous state. Many of the roads are one lane each way, and they often lead through winding mountain terrain. It is difficult enough to travel through these parts of the state during the dry months, and when winter comes, the snow and ice make conditions far more dangerous.

To make matters worse, the trucks used by energy companies to transport water are often older and not as well-maintained as they should be. Auto defects and faulty truck maintenance lead to engine failures, tire blowouts, steering failures, faulty brakes and other types of hazardous breakdowns, causing major auto accidents that frequently involve multiple vehicles with numerous people being seriously injured.

Another issue that increases the likelihood of fracking-related trucking accidents is driver fatigue. Oil and gas workers are exempt from numerous federal safety standards, including highway safety rules that restrict the number of hours truckers are allowed to be on the road. This means truckers who transport fracking water are allowed to work longer hours than those in almost any other industry.

There is a good reason for the federal restrictions on trucking hours, and without them, there would be far more trucking accidents on America’s roadways. But because the oil and gas industry has a strong lobby, they have been able to secure an exemption that virtually no other industry has. Water transport drivers should be treated the same as other any other truck driver, and if highway safety standards are not applied to these drivers, they will be pressured to work longer hours, putting themselves and those they share the roadways with at greater risk.

What to Do If You are Involved in a Water Transport Trucking Accident

Being involved in an accident with a fracking water transport truck is one of the most traumatic experiences anyone can have. Collisions with trucks carrying heavy and hazardous materials can cause multiple catastrophic injuries and even fatalities. If this happens to you or a loved one, there are several things you should do right away:

  • Report the Accident: Call 911 and the police to report the incident and fully cooperate with the authorities once they arrive. This will ensure that everything is handled properly and there is official documentation of the accident.
  • Seek Medical Attention: If you or anyone else is hurt, call an ambulance immediately to so those injured can receive prompt medical assistance.
  • Do Not Move your Vehicle: Unless you need to clear the road for safety reasons, keep your vehicle where it is. If there is any doubt about how the accident happened, experts can better reconstruct the incident if the vehicle is left in the same position it was in when the incident occurred.
  • Retain Extensive Documentation: While the incident is fresh in your mind, write down as much as you can about what happened, and take multiple photos to help substantiate your version of events. You should utilize any camera you have available, including your mobile phone.
  • Contact the West Virginia Public Service Commission (PSC) – The West Virginia PSC is responsible for registration for all motor carriers and hazardous material transports in West Virginia. They also conduct safety audits on newly-established motor carriers involved in interstate commerce and compliance reviews on interstate and intrastate motor carriers with lower than average safety ratings
  • Retain Witness Contact Information: If there are witnesses, obtain their contact information so they can be reached later if their testimony is needed.
  • Speak with an Experienced Attorney: Before speaking to any insurance adjusters and/or lawyers for the other parties involved, consult with a seasoned personal injury attorney so you understand your rights and options.

Construction and well sites are almost always multiemployer workplaces under the OSHA regulations and there are multiple parties responsible for safe working conditions and equipment.  Therefore, you need an experienced lawyer to assess the responsibilities of all parties on those sites under federal and state workplace safety regulations.

Energy and trucking companies and their insurers have high-priced lawyers who will try to discredit your testimony and minimize their liability for any accident caused by one of their water transport trucks. A skilled commercial vehicle accident attorney who has experience dealing with the complexities of these types of cases can help ensure that your rights are protected and you obtain full compensation for your injuries.

If you or someone close to you has been injured or killed in a water transport trucking accident, contact our office today for a free no-obligation consultation.


china investing in west virginia gas

Construction Boom from Chinese Investment in West Virginia: The Increased Dangers for Industry Workers

We recently reported on a story about China Energy Investment Corporation investing $83.7 billion into the West Virginia oil and gas industry over the next two decades. The amount of the investment exceeds West Virginia’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) and is sure to create tens of thousands of new jobs. These jobs will not only be in the energy industry, however, but in ancillary industries that will support the influx of energy workers.

A recent example of this phenomenon happened in North Dakota. In the late 2000s and early 2010s, oil workers were flocking to various parts of North Dakota for high-paying jobs related to the fracking boom. For a few years, there were severe housing shortages, and many workers slept in vehicles, rented bunks or other temporary accommodations. For several years, they could not build houses and apartment buildings fast enough, and any type of restaurant, retail store or entertainment establishment was almost guaranteed to prosper.

If the same situation occurs in West Virginia, construction jobs will be at a premium as builders struggle to put up enough structures to house, feed, clothe, and entertain energy workers. It is also highly likely that more highway and road construction projects will need to be initiated to accommodate the new infrastructure and allow workers easier access to job sites and nearby towns.

Like working in the oil and gas industry, construction is a very dangerous profession. Workers are often placed in hazardous environments using dangerous tools and heavy equipment and machinery. At the same time, construction companies frequently cut corners by not following safety standards and industry best practices. This becomes even more prevalent during a boom like West Virginia is experiencing when companies are rushing to complete lucrative projects, so they can cash in on the favorable economic environment.

There are several hazards construction workers are regularly exposed to, some of the most common include:

  • Ladder and Scaffolding Accidents: When ladders and scaffolds are poorly designed, poorly placed, or both, it poses a serious hazard to workers, particularly those working at dangerous heights. This can result in catastrophic injuries and fatalities from slips and falls and similar incidents.
  • Heavy Equipment Accidents: Incompetent or reckless operation of cranes, backhoes, bulldozers, and other types of heavy machinery and equipment can cause severe accidents, injuries, and fatalities. This happened recently to an out-of-state gas exploration worker who was struck and killed by a track hoe that lost control.
  • Being Struck by Falling Objects: On a typical construction site, there are several jobs being performed at the same time. If workers are under pressure to make deadlines and/or are not properly supervised, they may not see loose and falling debris; such as shingles, plywood, sheetrock, nails, etc. until it strikes and injures them.
  • Chemical and Hazardous Substance Exposure: Construction workers are routinely exposed to toxic substances while on the job. This can lead to both short-term and long-term health conditions.
  • Electrical Accidents: Electrocutions, gas explosions, fires, and similar incidents are common on construction sites. When these incidents occur, they can cause severe burns and other serious injuries and fatalities to multiple workers.

The Construction Boom and West Virginia Roadways

One of the biggest hazards construction workers face during a boom occurs when traveling to and from the jobsite. More construction projects means increased truck traffic, and a greater danger of trucking accidents.

In West Virginia, the roads can be treacherous, especially during the winter time. Many of the winding mountain roads are steep and difficult for large construction vehicles to navigate even when the roads are dry. When you add snow and ice to the equation, the conditions become far more hazardous.

Another common issue is the condition of the construction vehicles. Many vehicles used for construction are older and not well-maintained. Construction companies frequently look to save money by keeping older vehicles on the road, rather than investing in newer ones. Though these companies are typically earning more than enough money to provide decent vehicles for their workers, all too often, they look at the bottom line rather than the safety and well-being of those they employ.

Auto defects and failure to properly maintain vehicles are not the only reasons for commercial vehicle accidents. Other common causes of trucking accidents include:

  • Distracted Driving (e.g., texting while driving, eating, talking on the phone, etc.)
  • Speeding
  • Brakes, Steering and Tires failure
  • Careless or Reckless Driving
  • Driving while Intoxicated
  • Drowsy Driving (due to driver fatigue, sleep disorders, etc.)
  • Overloaded or Improperly Loaded Cargo
  • Poorly Trained Drivers

Who is Liable for Injuries from a Construction Accident?

Severe injuries and fatalities due to construction and truck-related accidents can be complex and challenging cases to pursue. On a typical job site, there are numerous contractors and subcontractors working alongside each other. For this reason, a thorough investigation must be conducted to determine the exact cause of the incident and who is at fault. If the accident is the fault of you or your employer, it will most likely become a worker’s compensation claim. If your employer is involved in the injury, you may have BOTH a workers’ compensation and a personal injury case under WV law. Construction and well sites are almost always multiemployer workplaces under OSHA regulations and there are multiple parties responsible for safe working conditions and equipment.  Therefore, you need an experienced West Virginia personal injury lawyer to assess the responsibilities of all parties on those sites under federal and state workplace safety regulations. If the accident is the fault of a third-party contractor/subcontractor or a product manufacturer, you may also be able to bring a personal injury and/or product liability action against the responsible party.

If you or someone close to you was injured or killed in a construction accident in West Virginia, it is important to have a strong legal advocate by your side. Construction and trucking companies and their insurers have multiple high-priced attorneys on retainer whose job it is to minimize their liability in these types of cases. Before discussing the case with your employer and/or the insurer of the responsible party, contact our office at (304) 345-0346 for a free, no-obligation consultation. The experienced personal injury attorneys at Bailey Javins & Carter are ready to protect your rights.

china investing in west virginia gas

Out-of-State Gas Exploration Worker Killed in Ohio County, WV Workplace Accident

West Virginia’s gas exploration industry is heating up. The Mountain State now produces more than 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas each year, and with billions of dollars in foreign investment promised from Chinese energy companies, production is expected to skyrocket in the coming years. The rapid expansion of the West Virginia gas exploration industry is drawing unprecedented numbers of out-of-state workers looking for high-paying jobs.

While the number of jobs being created by foreign investment in the gas exploration industry is a boon for the West Virginia economy, the safety of these workers is a major issue that must be addressed. Just last week, a 44-year-old pipeline worker from Alabama was killed in a tragic workplace accident in Ohio County, WV.

The victim, Charles Eric Gohagan, was a welder for Meadville, Pennsylvania-based Pipeline Systems, Inc. Pipeline Systems was subcontracted by MarkWest Energy Partners, L.P. to install new pipe at an Ohio County work site.

In 2014, MarkWest and other industry players announced plans to invest $30 billion in infrastructure in the region over 10 years, including pipelines to “keep natural gas flowing out” of the Utica and Marcellus Shale plays.

At one of their installation sites outside of West Liberty, West Virginia, a track hoe (a tracked vehicle with an arm) was moving a section of pipe up a hill. Gohagan and another worker were holding ropes attached to the pipe to control its direction. Gohagan was holding the rope downhill from the vehicle when it slipped on a patch of ice, slid downhill and struck him. Gohagan was dead on arrival when the West Liberty Emergency Medical services arrived at the scene.

MarkWest issued the following statement regarding the incident:

At approximately 1:00 p.m. today, while installing new pipe on a right of way in Ohio County, West Virginia, a subcontractor was fatally injured. Federal and state regulatory agencies have been contacted. Work on this project was immediately suspended and MarkWest issued a safety stand-down on all similar work sites across the Tri-state region while we thoroughly investigate this tragic event. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family, friends and co-workers of the deceased.

Major West Virginia Pipelines Gained Approval in 2017

Late last year, federal regulators approved two major West Virginia natural gas pipeline projects that will transport natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale deposits to states throughout the Eastern Seaboard. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued full approvals for the Mountain Valley Pipeline and Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

These two are among a series of natural gas pipeline projects in the region that are meant to capitalize on the area natural gas boom. These projects are controversial, however, and have drawn opposition from local citizens, environmental groups, and other parties over health and safety concerns. Industry officials argue that pipeline and other infrastructure projects are badly needed to ensure that the natural gas extracted from these large shale deposits can be effectively distributed to other parts of the country.

At the end of the day, pipeline projects like Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast are likely to go forward, and there will be many similar projects in the coming years as foreign investment dollars flood the region. However, Mr. Gohagan’s tragic death is a major wake-up call to industry leaders about the urgent need to address the dangers of this type of work.

For example, whenever employees and subcontractors are working around heavy equipment, steps need to be taken to ensure worker safety, including accounting for adverse weather conditions. Other dangers gas exploration workers and their employers need to be mindful of include:

  • Injuries and fatalities due to natural gas explosions;
  • Trucking accidents involving vehicles going to and from gas and oil drilling sites;
  • Transporting contaminated water from fracking activities;
  • Other types of fracking accidents.

Out-of-State Worker Injuries and Fatalities: What Are My Legal Rights?

If you or a loved one is seriously injured or killed as an out-of-state worker in West Virginia, it is important to understand your legal rights. In nearly all cases, out-of-state WV workers and their families have the right to compensation when they suffer severe injury or fatality on the job.

There are two common legal avenues to recover compensation for a workplace injury or fatality:

  • A Worker’s Compensation Claim: Most West Virginia employers are required to carry Worker’s Compensation insurance. If your employer has Worker’s Comp coverage, you may be eligible for benefits such as coverage for medical expenses, temporary partial disability, temporary total disability, permanent partial disability, and permanent total disability.
  • A Third-Party Personal Injury Lawsuit: If the injury resulted from the negligence or recklessness of a party other than your employer (such as a contractor or subcontractor), you may be able to recover damages through a personal injury action. Compensatory damages may include medical expenses, lost wages (both present and future), pain and suffering, mental anguish, wrongful death damages, and in rare and extreme cases, punitive damages.

There are times when a personal injury action can be brought against a West Virginia employer with Worker’s Compensation coverage under the legal theory known as “deliberate intent”. For a deliberate intent action to be successful, the injury victim must prove the following:

  • An unsafe working condition which presented a high probability of severe injury or death existed;
  • Prior to the injury, the employer had actual knowledge of the existence of said condition;
  • The unsafe condition violated a federal or state safety law, rule or regulation, or it violated a commonly accepted industry safety practice;
  • After having actual knowledge, the employer intentionally exposed the worker to the unsafe condition;
  • The employee suffered a severe injury or fatality as a direct proximate result of the unsafe working condition.

Contact an Experienced and Compassionate West Virginia Injury Firm

Injury cases involving out-of-state workers can be highly complex. There are deadlines that must be met to file claims, and it is important to have an experienced advocate by your side who has in-depth knowledge of state laws. Keep in mind also that these energy companies have armies of high-priced attorneys whose job is to minimize their liability in these types of cases, so you need a skilled attorney with a proven track record of successful results against even the most well-funded adversaries.

If you or someone close to you was injured or killed in a West Virginia gas exploration workplace accident, contact the aggressive and skilled personal injury attorneys at Bailey Javins & Carter today for a free case assessment. Call our office at (800) 497-0234 or through our online contact form.

China Invests in West Virginia Gas Exploration

Major Chinese Investment in West Virginia Gas

Last November, President Trump returned from a trip to Asia with a commitment from the Chinese to invest $250 billion in various projects in the United States. Roughly one-third of that investment will go to one state; West Virginia. China Energy Investment Corporation, a newly formed company that was a merger between state-owned coal mining company Shenhua Group and energy producer Guodian Group, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to invest $83.7 billion in shale gas, power, and chemical projects in the Mountain State over the next 20 years.

China Energy chose West Virginia because it is sitting on one of the world’s largest shale gas reserves, and they believe there is enormous potential to develop and expand the state’s energy infrastructure. China Energy also has a longstanding relationship with the Mountain State. One of its former companies, Shenhua Group, has participated in ongoing research initiatives with West Virginia University since 2002.

Location is also viewed as a major plus. West Virginia has several highly populous states located nearby. Its proximity to Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and states along the eastern seaboard make it easier to import essential out-of-state workers who will play a critical role in the state’s natural gas industry development.

There has already been an influx of energy workers from not only neighboring states but other known energy-producing states such as Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. The forthcoming Chinese investment is expected to produce thousands of additional jobs, and with this level of demand for workers, wages are likely to increase, making West Virginia a popular destination for workers looking for a future in the energy industry.

Mixed Reaction to China Energy Investment

The economic impact of the China Energy investment in a state the size of West Virginia cannot be understated. Not only is this the largest foreign investment in the state’s history, the dollar amount of the investment over the next two decades ($83.7 billion) is more than West Virginia’s total annual gross domestic product (GDP).

Political leaders are praising the announcement and hailing its anticipated economic impact:

“This is a great day for the state of West Virginia,” said Governor Jim Justice. “I’ve been saying for the last couple months that the tides are turning in West Virginia and this is proof…”

“This investment in shale gas resources located here in West Virginia will spur tremendous economic growth in our communities,” said Congressman David McKinley.

There is no doubt that this deal is unprecedented, but at this point, details are sketchy. No information was given about specific projects China Energy will be involved in, the announcement only stated that “the projects will focus on power generation, chemical manufacturing, and underground storage of natural gas liquids and derivatives.”

Some are concerned about where the investments will be directed, whether or not local jobs will be created, and the unintended consequences the new projects will have in the state. Even before this deal was announced, West Virginia regulators lifted their previous suspension of approval for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, clearing the way for the controversial project to go forward.

There is concern that an enormous investment like the one China Energy is poised to make will put even greater pressure on regulators to approve similar projects in the future with minimal levels of scrutiny. This could potentially have adverse effects on the environment, and it could expose energy workers to more hazardous conditions.

Another potential issue is the impact the China Energy investment will have on other industries in the state. For example, how will the major focus on natural gas-powered utility generation affect the already struggling coal industry? And what about the Mountain State’s investments in renewable energy?

The CEO of the state’s largest utility company, Appalachian Power, announced last year that they would not be building any more coal plants and that they would invest heavily in solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources. With $83 billion now being invested in shale gas exploration and infrastructure, however, the lure of cheap energy from natural gas could divert resources away from coal and renewables.

Gas Exploration Injuries and Fatalities Likely to Increase

There is a lot of uncertainty about how the $83 billion Chinese Energy investment will affect the state, but one thing we can be fairly sure about is that workplace injuries related to oil and gas exploration in the Marcellus Shale formation and other energy-rich regions will increase.

The rush to develop West Virginia’s vast energy resources has already created more hazardous work conditions. This was underscored a couple weeks ago by the tragic death of a 44-year-old out-of-state pipeline worker who was struck and killed by a tracked vehicle while helping move a piece of natural gas pipe.

With an exponential increase in gas exploration projects, tens of thousands of workers hired – many of whom will be unskilled, and a relaxed federal and state regulatory environment, there is a strong likelihood that energy companies will continue to foster a culture of substandard work conditions.

Some of the major injury risks for gas exploration workers include:

The Chinese Energy investment is a major economic opportunity for West Virginia, but the energy industry is inherently dangerous, and companies need to pay much more attention to the human costs of this prosperity. This means properly training workers, taking reasonable measures to ensure that work conditions are kept safe, and hiring enough employees to minimize the number of hours of overtime workers are required to put in, so they are not fatigued and more susceptible to making critical errors.

Oil and gas exploration is a very lucrative industry, and energy companies have the ability to make the necessary investments in the safety of their workers. All that is missing is the commitment to do so. With numerous new projects coming online in the years ahead, let’s hope energy companies make the decision to put people before profits.