US Chemical Safety Board faults producer, contractors in fatal oil waste accident

By OGJ editors
WASHINGTON, DC, Sept. 19 -- The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) Wednesday unanimously approved two investigation reports that found a fatal fire at an oil field waste disposal facility near Houston could have been avoided if the involved companies followed safer procedures.

On Jan. 13 two trucks exploded while unloading waste material removed from two wells operated by Houston-based Noble Energy Inc. CSB said a flammable vapor cloud formed in the unloading area, which later became drawn into the air intakes of the trucks' running diesel engines. The vapor then led both engines to race and backfire, igniting an explosion. Three people died, and four were injured; civil lawsuits are pending. The board's investigators contend that neither the drivers, nor the waste disposal facility's personnel knew the material was highly volatile.

Next steps
CSB does not issue citations or fines. Instead it makes safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The board called on the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates oil field operations in the state, to require all drillers and producers to comply with federal regulations on communicating hazards to workers and safely transporting hazardous liquids. The board found fault with the gas well's operator Noble Energy, the disposal facility, BLSR Operating Ltd., and contractor T&L Environmental Services Inc.

The board also wants OSHA, the US Department of Transportation, Noble Energy, BLSR, and T&L to consider stronger safety rules. OSHA and EPA spokespeople were not available Friday for comment.

In a prepared statement made available Saturday, the TRC said it had no immediate plans to change existing rules. But commission officials said they also remain committed to keeping workers and the public safe.

"Although the Railroad Commission does not at this time see that any of its regulations need to be modified as a result of this investigation, it is in the process of sending an advisory to all of its regulated commercial waste disposal operators, and permitted waste haulers to advise caution and observance of federal and state regulations when handling basic sediment and water (BS&W) that may be associated with any facility which produces condensate," officials said.

TRC officials added that Commissioner Charles Matthews has asked the staff to review Railroad Commission rules to make sure that the Commission has done all it can to insure the safety of workers and the public. Matthews said, "The Commission is committed to the safety of all Texans. The agency will continue to work with all state, federal and industry segments toward the prevention of accidents."

Industry response
Responding to CSB, Noble Energy defended its safety record, and questioned the investigative report CSB relied on for its findings.

"The board's report covers a very tragic accident. For more than 70 years, our contractors have safely disposed of waste materials from thousands of our well sites throughout Texas and the US," said Noble Energy Senior Vice-President Bill Poillion. "We fully support the mission of the board, however, in this case outside experts have told us that the board's investigators unfortunately missed some important facts and made some erroneous conclusions. This flawed analysis undermines the board's report.

"The real cause of this accident was that the truck engines were left running. Anyone who has ever been to a gas station knows you just don't do that. To make things worse, the trucks were not outfitted with a common safety device that prevents diesel engines from over-racing. The engines began over-racing and one of them backfired, emitting a spark that caused this horrible accident.

"Our hearts go out to the families in our community who were hurt by this terrible accident.

"Over the years our company has won numerous safety awards. We will continue with our efforts to increase safety," Poillion said.

Blame laid on well operators, contractors
But CSB officials said Noble Energy and its contractors could have prevented the accident.

Board Chairman Carolyn Merritt said, "This accident, which took three lives and caused devastating burns to survivors, could have been prevented if the hazard of the waste had been recognized, communicated, and controlled. Oil and gas field wastes can be highly flammable and need to be handled appropriately. We urge similar operations around the country to review our findings and recommendations from this case."

Following discussion, the board concluded there were three root causes of the tragedy. First, the producer of the waste, gas well operator Noble Energy, did not recognize the potential flammability of the waste liquid and provide appropriate safety information to either T&L or BLSR, CSB said.

Additionally, BLSR management did not have safe unloading and handling practices for potentially flammable wastes. CSB said BLSR did not control potential ignition sources or use unloading techniques designed to minimize vapor formation.

Finally, CSB said T&L management did not require oil field waste generators to provide its truck drivers with information on material hazards.

Related Articles

WAFWA: Aerial survey finds lesser prairie chicken population grew

07/06/2015 A recent range-wide aerial survey found the lesser prairie chicken population rose 25% from 2014 to 2015, the Western Association of Fish & Wil...

Buru awarded onshore Canning licenses

07/06/2015 Buru Energy Ltd., Perth, and Mitsubish Corp. have been granted two production licenses for Ungani oil field in the onshore Canning basin of Western...

Cenovus sells royalty business for $3.3 billion

07/06/2015 Cenovus Energy Inc., Calgary, inked an agreement to sell its wholly owned subsidiary Heritage Royalty LP to Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan for gros...

CERI: Energy, operational efficiencies possible in Canadian oil, gas

07/06/2015 Measures can be taken by operators in the expanding resource-intensive Canadian oil and gas sector to improve both energy efficiency and operationa...

AGL Energy to scale back upstream gas operations


Gas retailer AGL Energy Ltd., Sydney, says it will exit the oil business and massively scaling back its upstream gas operations.

Woodside lets contracts for Browse LNG project

07/06/2015 Woodside Petroleum Ltd. has let more contracts for the Browse floating LNG project offshore Western Australia. The contracts, awarded to a Technip-...

Macondo settlement seen ‘positive’ for BP

07/06/2015 BP Exploration & Production Inc.’s recent agreement to settle federal and state claims related to the 2010 Macondo blowout and spill improves t...

Court to EPA: Costs matter

07/06/2015 Oil and gas groups did not respond immediately when the US Supreme Court ruled on June 29 that the US Environmental Protection Agency acted unreaso...

The price of oil and OPEC-history repeating?

07/06/2015 The world oil market today is characterized by a standoff between the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and non-OPEC producers a...
White Papers

UAS Integration for Infrastructure: More than Just Flying

Oil and gas companies recognize the benefits that the use of drones or unmanned aerial systems (UAS) c...

Solutions to Financial Distress Resulting from a Weak Oil and Gas Price Environment

The oil and gas industry is in the midst of a prolonged worldwide downturn in commodity prices. While ...
Sponsored by

2015 Global Engineering Information Management Solutions Competitive Strategy Innovation and Leadership Award

The Frost & Sullivan Best Practices Awards recognise companies in a variety of regional and global...
Sponsored by

Three Tips to Improve Safety in the Oil Field

Working oil fields will always be tough work with inherent risks. There’s no getting around that. Ther...
Sponsored by

Pipeline Integrity: Best Practices to Prevent, Detect, and Mitigate Commodity Releases

Commodity releases can have catastrophic consequences, so ensuring pipeline integrity is crucial for p...
Sponsored by

AVEVA’s Digital Asset Approach - Defining a new era of collaboration in capital projects and asset operations

There is constant, intensive change in the capital projects and asset life cycle management. New chall...
Sponsored by

Transforming the Oil and Gas Industry with EPPM

With budgets in the billions, timelines spanning years, and life cycles extending over decades, oil an...
Sponsored by

Asset Decommissioning in Oil & Gas: Transforming Business

Asset intensive organizations like Oil and Gas have their own industry specific challenges when it com...
Sponsored by
Available Webcasts

Operating a Sustainable Oil & Gas Supply Chain in North America

When Tue, Oct 20, 2015

Short lead times and unpredictable conditions in the Oil & Gas industry can create costly challenges in supply chains. By implementing a LEAN culture of continuous improvement you can eliminate waste, increase productivity and gain end-to-end visibility leading to a sustainable and well-oiled supply chain.

Please join us for this webcast sponsored by Ryder System, Inc.


On Demand

Leveraging technology to improve safety & reliability

Tue, Sep 22, 2015

Attend this informative webinar to learn more about how to leverage technology to meet the new OSHA standards and protect your employees from the hazards of arc flash explosions.


The Resilient Oilfield in the Internet of Things World

Tue, Sep 22, 2015

As we hear about the hype surrounding the Internet of Things, the oil and gas industry is questioning what is different than what is already being done. What is new?  Using sensors and connecting devices is nothing new to our mode of business and in many ways the industry exemplifies many principles of an industrial internet of things. How does the Internet of Things impact the oil and gas industry?

Prolific instrumentation and automation digitized the industry and has changed the approach to business models calling for a systems led approach.  Resilient Systems have the ability to adapt to changing circumstances while maintaining their central purpose.  A resilient system, such as Maximo, allows an asset intensive organization to leverage connected devices by merging real-time asset information with other critical asset information and using that information to create a more agile organization.  

Join this webcast, sponsored by IBM, to learn how about Internet of Things capabilities and resilient systems are impacting the landscape of the oil and gas industry.


Taking the Headache out of Fuel License and Exemption Certificates: How to Ensure Compliance

Tue, Aug 25, 2015

This webinar, brought to you by Avalara, will detail the challenges of tax document management, as well as recommend solutions for fuel suppliers. You will learn:

-    Why it’s critical to track business partner licenses and exemption documents
-    The four key business challenges of ensuring tax compliance through document management
-    Best practice business processes to minimize exposure to tax errors


Emerson Micro Motion Videos

Careers at TOTAL

Careers at TOTAL - Videos

More than 600 job openings are now online, watch videos and learn more!


Click Here to Watch

Other Oil & Gas Industry Jobs

Search More Job Listings >>
Stay Connected