On Friday, May 25, an explosion in Doddridge County, WV claimed the life of one worker and severely injured three others. The four men were disassembling three aboveground storage tanks (ASTs) near West Union. The ASTs are believed to be owned by Hydrocarbon Well Services, an oil and gas company based in Buckhannon that has serviced oil and gas wells in the Appalachian region for over 30 years.
After the explosion, the four men were flown to Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh to treat their injuries. Larry Battea, a 51-year-old employee of Hydrocarbon, later died of thermal and inhalation injuries. The other three men are employees of Waste Management. Their condition is currently unknown.
The cause of the fatal explosion is still under investigation by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) is working closely with OSHA and local emergency officials to uncover additional details about the incident.
Initial reports indicate that the three aboveground storage tanks were taken to a site on Whitehair Lane just south of U.S. Highway 50 to be disassembled. Two of the three tanks had already been decommissioned for several years, while the third one was part of an active oil and gas well.
It is believed that the explosion occurred when the active tank was being disassembled in order to be replaced. During the process, the workers were using a torch to cut up the tank, so it could be used for scrap. The torch apparently caused the tank to ignite, resulting in the explosion.
In the aftermath of the explosion, it appears that some oil spilled into Cabin Run, a small stream located near the explosion site. The amount of oil that was spilled is currently unknown, and steps have been taken to prevent the oil from spreading beyond the site.
Enviroclean was hired immediately after the accident to conduct environmental remediation at the scene. Absorbent booms were placed in the stream at the point where the initial spill occurred, and additional booms were placed roughly 700 feet downstream. In addition, they installed an overflow dam approximately 100 feet downstream of the spill.
Petroleum Mishaps from Aboveground Storage Tanks
Unfortunately, the recent Doddridge County explosion is not an isolated incident. The Steel Tank Institute published an extensive list of fuel tank-related accidents that have occurred in the past decade. These accidents have resulted in countless workplace injuries and wrongful deaths, and oil and gas companies have paid millions in fines and lawsuit settlements.
The impact on workers and their families from these accidents is impossible to quantify. When a loved one is killed or suffers a debilitating injury that robs them of their livelihood, it exacts an enormous physical, emotional, and financial toll on everyone involved. But despite the obvious dangers, energy companies are not doing nearly enough to protect their employees and subcontractors.
The environmental impact of spills from the aboveground tanks is another major concern. The lack of adequate spill-prevention measures has caused widespread damage to fish, wildlife, and public drinking water systems. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) Regulation sets forth the requirements for preventing, preparing for, and responding to oil spills from aboveground tanks and other facilities. In many cases, however, energy companies have cut corners and failed to properly adhere to these regulations.
Hazards Caused by Aboveground Storage Tanks
Use of aboveground storage tanks by energy companies has become more widespread in recent years. Oil and gas companies prefer ASTs because they are less costly to install and easier to monitor than tanks located below ground. But as the Doddridge County explosion and countless similar incidents show, the hazards associated with ASTs can be extremely harmful to both workers and the environment.
Accidents and spills from aboveground storage tanks happen for a number of reasons. Some of the most common include:
- Vandalism: If the ASTs are not properly secured, vandals can get in and damage the tanks, in some cases resulting in leaks, fires, and other hazards. Companies must take appropriate measures to ensure that their tanks are protected from outside intruders.
- Incidental Leakage: Over time, ASTs can become corroded and attached pipes can start to disconnect. This can cause hazardous substances to leak slowly out of the tank, exposing them to workers and the environment. To prevent this from happening, it is important to perform frequent inspections and to follow proper cleaning procedures.
- Lack of Proper Protection: Those who work on ASTs need to wear the proper safety gear; e.g., masks, respirators, safety goggles, gloves, body clothing, etc. When companies do not ensure that their workers are wearing the appropriate gear, it can be potentially hazardous to their health and safety.
- Poor Work Environment: Sloppy and careless procedures set forth by AST owners, putting workers in dangerous work environments. AST owners routinely cut corners on safety measures in order to maintain high production rates, valuing speed over worker safety. Employers also often ignore Federal and State AST safety regulations because these restrictions impede productivity. As a result of these reckless actions taken by employers, workers often suffer serious injuries or are killed. An example of this unsafe behavior is performing “hot” work on an active AST (such as using a torch to disassemble an active tank) could result in an explosion and potentially lead to serious injury.
The use of aboveground storage tanks is a reality in the oil and gas industry. While this practice may be advantageous for energy companies, the fatal explosion that just occurred in Doddridge County underscores the need for these companies to do more to protect their workers. Hopefully, this horrible tragedy will bring more attention to this issue and prompt energy companies to redouble their efforts to follow requirements and ensure that their employees and subcontractors have a safe and secure work environment.
Contact A West Virginia Personal Injury Firm
If you or someone close to you was injured or killed in a workplace accident in West Virginia, it is important to have a strong legal advocate by your side. Gas, oil and storage 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) 932-4639 for a free, no-obligation consultation. The experienced personal injury attorneys at Bailey Javins & Carter are ready to protect your rights. We have recovered millions of dollars in damages for workers and their families who have been injured or killed as a result of unsafe working environments.