Dark Side of the Boom: North Dakota’s Oil & Gas Worker Fatality Rate

North Dakota is the most dangerous state in the country for oil and gas workers. The state’s worker fatality rate is 75 per 100,000, about three times the national average.

In raw numbers for 2011-2012, 23 workers died in North Dakota, compared to three deaths in Wyoming and six in Colorado.

But North Dakota’s startling fatality rate hasn’t gotten a lot of attention until now. Governor Jack Dalrymple announced to Inside Energy last week that he’s planning to bring together the state’s top safety officials to look into fatalities in the industry, and to see what they can do better.

Oil and gas worker in North Dakota.

Lindsey G / via Flickr

Oil and gas worker in North Dakota.

Experts sited less experienced workers and a lack of inspections as two issues for worker fatalities in the North Dakota boom.

“The experience level of our entry-level employee is significantly lower than the individuals or companies I visit with in Texas or Colorado,” said Scott Rogers, an industrial hygienist and occupational safety consultant from Bozeman, Montana who works with oil companies in the Bakken shale formation. Rogers said the problem extends to workplace safety professionals, too.

Dennis Schmitz is the head of MonDaks Safety Network, an all-volunteer organization founded in Texas in 2003 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)  and members of the oil and gas industry to address injuries and deaths among workers.

He said another part of the problem is that most oil and gas companies are unlikely to ever have a safety inspection in North Dakota – even though the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has hired more inspectors recently and created specific programs that target the oil industry.

“You probably almost have better odds of winning the lottery than getting a visit from a regulatory agency,” he said.

To read the complete Inside Energy “Dark Side of the Boom” series on oil and gas workers fatalities click here.

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