The debate about the dangers of fracking and the potential damage that this can do to the environment rages on. However, that isn't getting in the way of oil producers in Texas, who are taking advantage of the technology to extract vast amounts of oil and natural gas. For example, it is estimated that the Eagle Ford Shale, which lies to the west of Dallas, may contain at least 1.25 billion barrels of oil and 8.4 trillion cubic feet of gas.
Of course, producing that amount of energy is going to have a significant environmental impact. However, it appears that the toll among oilfield workers is going to be significant as well. For example, a recent examination of Occupational Safety & Health Administration(OSHA) records showed that there were no less than 35 oil and gas related deaths in the state between 2009 and 2011.
You might think that these deaths are just symptomatic of an industry that is inherently dangerous, but you would be wrong. A newspaper in San Antonio used the freedom of information act to gain access to 11 of those 35 deaths, specifically the ones that occurred in South Texas near to the Eagle Ford Shale. What they found was disturbing - it turned out that every single one of the deaths could have been prevented, with all of the death records showing clear evidence of safety violations.
The fines levied by OSHA against the oil companies for these deaths could not possibly serve as a deterrent, particularly when you consider the vast amounts of revenues that flow out of these oil fields. In the case of the 11 deaths in South Texas, the initial fines averaged a meager $10,900 per death, but subsequent reductions by OSHA ruled this figure down to $6100. This seems to be an almost insulting penalty for what apparently were preventable deaths. You can only hope that the families of the deceased were able to find a Dallas wrongful death lawyer so that they could get more appropriate compensation.
It also appears that these 35 oilfield deaths may only have been part of the overall death toll. In addition to accidents at the oil fields, there were also no less than 40 oil and gas workers killed on the roads in Texas between 2009 and 2011. Many of these may have been involved in transporting oil as well as wastewater produced by the fracking process away from the wellheads. In fact, the risk of traffic accidents is particularly high in the oil and gas industry, since workers typically work long hours, and the roadways in and out of the oil fields can be both isolated and treacherous. It should be noted that these 40 deaths did not include people outside of the industry who were killed in collisions with oil and gas vehicles.
Clearly, the situation as it exists is not tolerable. There needs to be a combination of strong deterrents and increased focus on safety procedures to address the problem. Whether this will actually happen is another question.