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Company Cited in Fracking Tank Blast

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

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Failure to control sparks and provide fall protection contributed to a tank explosion and blaze that injured three workers at a South Texas fracking disposal site in January, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has found.

OSHA has cited High Roller Wells LLC of Pearsall, TX, for 10 serious safety violations in the accident and proposed $46,200 in fines.

 The tank blaze was the third fracking-related fire fought by the local volunteer fire department in six months.

 Pearsall Volunteer Fire Department

The tank blaze was the third fracking-related fire fought by the local volunteer fire department in six months.

Founded in 2010, High Roller disposes of hydraulic fracturing fluid and employs about 34 workers at the site, about 60 miles southwest of San Antonio.

The company declined to comment Tuesday (April 24) on the case. The company has no web site, and no information about it was available. The current condition of the injured employees was also unavailable.

The explosion occurred about 5:30 p.m. Jan. 19 as employees were injecting wastewater underground that was left over from hydraulic fracturing and drilling operations.

Four fire departments, including the Pearsall Volunteer Fire Department, fought more than 90 minutes to control the blaze.

Serious Violations

Serious violations issued by OSHA reflect a “substantial probability” of death or serious injury from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.

The 10 serious violations issued against High Roller include failure to:

• Ensure that workers were provided with fall protection while working on the tops of tanks;

• Ensure that equipment and electrical wiring were rated for the environment in which they are being used;

• Take precautions to prevent possible ignition sources such as sparks or static electricity;

• Determine what personal protective equipment employees needed;

• Ensure that there was an emergency action plan in place; and

• Provide an eyewash station for employees working around acids.

“Employers are responsible for ensuring that employees are provided a workplace free from recognized hazards,” said Jeff Funke, the agency’s area director in San Antonio. “If OSHA’s standards had been followed, it is possible this unfortunate incident could have been avoided.”

Fire Volunteers Challenged

The fire was the third of its kind in six months for the Pearsall Volunteer Fire Department, Chief Placido Aguilar told State Impact Texas, a local public radio cooperative.

“There were four departments from around here, 12 trucks, and 33 guys that helped with the fire,” said Aguilar, who works days as a furniture delivery person. He said firefighters had had to cool down three tanks holding oil so they wouldn’t reignite.

Aguilar told the radio stations that his department had not received—and was not expecting—any additional funding or personnel during the South Texas fracking boom.

He said the High Roller facility was lucky to have burned as the volunteer firefighters were finishing their day jobs.

“If it had happened during the day, I don’t know what would’ve happened,” he told the stations. “I don’t know if we would’ve been able to put it out.”

The Railroad Commission of Texas, which oversees drilling in the state, found no violation of its rules and said that the company’s lease was in compliance with commission rules.

The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA, or contest the citations.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Explosions; Fall protection; Health and safety; OSHA; Tanks and vessels

Comment from Anna Jolly, (4/26/2012, 5:00 PM)

Fracking is fairly new technology and the hazards are not well know to the masses. Unfortunately, it seems that we will learn about the hazards from incidents such as this.

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