OK Drilling Rig Blast Turns Deadly

Wednesday, January 24, 2018 @ 12:01 PM gHale

Officials found the bodies of five missing workers from the Monday explosion of an Oklahoma drilling rig.

The bodies of five workers ended up recovered Tuesday after an explosion ripped through a drilling rig in Oklahoma Monday morning.

The rig is owned by Houston’s Patterson-UTI Energy, a large drilling and hydraulic fracturing company working to recover from being one of the worst safety offenders in the energy sector. Three of the five people killed were Patterson-UTI employees.

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“This is a real tragedy and our hearts go out to the families and friends of the victims,” said Andy Hendricks, Patterson-UTI’s chief executive.

The victims were identified as Josh Ray, 35, of Fort Worth, TX; Cody Risk, 26, Wellington, CO; and Matt Smith, 29, McAlester, OK, who worked for Patterson-UTI. Other victims were Parker Waldridge, 60, Crescent, OK and Roger Cunningham, 55, Seminole, OK, who worked for other contractors.

Authorities are still seeking a cause of Monday’s explosion at a drilling site near Quinton, OK, about 100 miles southeast of Tulsa. Fires raged for much of the day Monday, leaving emergency workers local unable to find the bodies until Tuesday afternoon.

More than 20 people were working at the well site when the explosion occurred. Authorities said 16 people escaped the explosion without major injuries. One Patterson-UTI worker ended up airlifted to a hospital and later released.

The explosion is setback to Patterson-UTI’s efforts to repair what was one of the worst safety records in the industry. During the 2000s, Patterson-UTI had more fatalities at its worksite than any other U.S. energy company. One report found 12 workers died at the company’s Texas drilling sites from 2003 through 2007.

The accidents didn’t cease after the report, although they’ve been less frequent, according to records from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). One worker was crushed in November 2010 at a rig site southwest of San Antonio near Cotulla. In August 2011, there was another fatality at a Patterson rig near Carrizo Springs.

In April 2012, a worker in South Texas’ Eagle Ford shale fell 50 feet to his death from a Patterson rig, which federal inspectors later noted had “excess crude oil or oil-based liquids visible on the beams.” Last year, in August, there was a fatal accident at a Patterson-UTI rig site near Rankin in West Texas.

Hendricks, who joined Patterson-UTI as CEO in 2012, said the company has worked hard to improve safety, spending about $150 million in the last decade on safety training and equipment upgrades. Every worker has “stop work” authority to halt activity if they believe safety is at risk, he said.

“Certainly, for me and the leadership we have today, safety is the top priority,” Hendricks said, declining to comment much on the company’s previous safety record. “There have been cases in the past, but I think the record shows – certainly in the last few years – we’ve been one of the safest companies in the industry.”

The Oklahoma well was operated by Red Mountain, a small Oklahoma production company. The rig worked at the well for about 10 days and drilled 13,500 feet underground – roughly 2.5 miles – when the explosion occurred, said Red Mountain Chief Executive Tony Say.

Cody Risk was the youngest victim. He began working for Patterson-UTI as a floorhand only several weeks ago.

Hendricks said Risk received intensive and thorough “new to the industry” training before he was sent to the drilling site.

Once local authorities clear the site, Patterson-UTI and Red Mountain, will work with OSHA to investigate the accident, Hendricks said. It’s far too early to speculate on the cause of the explosion, Hendricks said.

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