OSHA investigating Tyler gas-well death

Federal officials are continuing to investigate the death last week of a contract employee at an Antero Resources natural gas operation in Tyler County.

U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigators were still on-site this week at the operation, where contract employee Ryan Dunn was killed on Nov. 29, said OSHA spokeswoman Leni Uddyback-Fortson. Uddyback-Fortson said that Dunn was killed when he was struck by an end-loader at the drilling site.

Kelley Gillenwater, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said that the incident occurred at the Antero Resources well pad at Braden Hill. Gillenwater said that OSHA is handling the investigation, but that DEP was notified of the incident.

Al Schoop, a spokesman for Antero, said that the worker who was killed was employed by a contract firm, Precision Drilling. A Precision spokesman did not return a phone call Wednesday. Schoop said the incident occurred at Antero’s Coastal 1 Pad, located just across the Tyler County line from the Doddridge County community of Shirley.

The fatality is the latest in an increase in worker deaths to occur over the last several years as natural gas production booms in West Virginia’s Marcellus Shale region.

Last year, seven oil and gas industry workers died on the job in West Virginia, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Between 2009 and 2013, as the industry has boomed, 15 workers have died on the job in West Virginia, according to federal data. During the previous five-year period, from 2004-2008, three workers died in West Virginia’s oil and gas industry, according to the data. Uddyback-Fortson said that the Antero incident is the first oil and gas industry fatality that OSHA has investigated in West Virginia in 2014.

In July 2013, two workers were killed in a series of explosions at an Antero well site in Doddridge County.

“Worker safety in the oil and gas industry is a growing concern,” Tommy Bowles-Raines, a Charleston lawyer who represents workers and their families, told an interim legislative committee during a meeting last month.

Corky DeMarco, lobbyist for the West Virginia Oil and Gas Association, told that same legislative committee, “We’ve had some accidents and unfortunately there have been some people hurt and a number have lost their lives. But we’re trying to come up with best management practices to not have these accidents.

“We’re changing and we’re learning as we go,” DeMarco told lawmakers. “It’s a process that has evolved and will continue to evolve.”

A one-paragraph report from DEP inspector Michael Goff said that last week’s death at the Antero site occurred as contract employees were cleaning up a drilling mud spill from a line on a centrifuge unit onto a containment liner.

Gillenwater said OSHA would be the agency that would investigate safety protocols at the site.

Under the state’s new drilling law, operators are required to submit to DEP plans “to address proper safety measures to be employed for the protection of persons on the site as well as the general public.”

But James Martin, chief of the DEP Office of Oil and Gas, told lawmakers last month that his office leaves worker safety issues mostly up to OSHA.

“Our focus is on the environmental side of it, so that’s what we look to,” Martin said. “Obviously, there is overlap. The same issue could result in both safety and environmental concerns. But our focus is on the environment.”

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com, 304-348-1702 or follow @kenwardjr on Twitter.

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