Disposable workers of the oil and gas fields

If you don’t have a college degree, it’s the best job in the West. Unless you die, unnoticed.

  • At sunrise, a roughneck begins a shift by guiding the massive sheave — a block and tackle on steroids — into place over a drill string that will be pulled under enormous pressure from a depth of more than 10,000 feet

    JT Thomas
  • Ninety-foot lengths of drill pipe are pulled from the well hole and stacked on the rig. It takes a well-coordinated heave-ho from the “derrick man” up in the “crow’s nest” and the roughneck on the drill platform to swing them safely into position

    JT Thomas
  • Colton Bryant with his wife, Melissa, and kids, shortly before he fell off a drilling rig walkway that had an inadequate railing; the February 2006 accident killed him

    Courtesy Bryant family
  • After drilling as deep as several miles into the earth, sometimes at complex angles, the pressure on the “string” becomes immense, at times peaking at 1 million pounds, and the rig strains while the crew is “tripping out” — pulling the entire length of mud-filled drill sections

    JT Thomas
  • Marsha Iriberry, who suffered many broken bones in a 2003 pipeline explosion, with her dog, Mickey, who recently lost part of a front paw in a coyote trap

    Ray Ring
  • D.J. Maser Jr. was 16 when he got badly burned in a welding shop that serves the oil and gas industry. Ten years later, he works in drywalling, and under the sheetrock dust, the burn scars show on his arms and hands. He got the black eyes at a recent party where he had too much to drink — a rare event, he says

    Ray Ring
  • Chemical-laden “mud”splashes from the hole as roughnecks work with the massive “string” that’s being pulled from deep in the earth

    JT Thomas
  • A roughneck works to get a pipe fitting screwed onto the drill section

    JT Thomas
  • Josh Riedel, front, wanted to be a pilot, and got a thrill on his first parachute jump. A few months after this photo, he took a summer job on a Wyoming drilling rig, hoping to save money for college. The rig’s massive “tongs” — for screwing pipes together — slammed and killed him

    Courtesy Riedel family
  • Safety features abound on newer drilling rigs. But constant demand for maintenance frequently puts roughnecks in high-risk and high-voltage situations.

    JT Thomas
  • A “derrick man,” seen here descending from the rig, can spend most of his 12-hour shift harnessed to the rig and suspended more than 70 feet above the main deck on a catwalk. He maneuvers tethered drill sections into position, an especially demanding job in harsh weather.

    JT Thomas
  • Despite sophisticated computers on some rigs, it is ultimately up to the drill operator to take the pulse of the rig and to watch the backs of his fellow roughnecks. “Whatever is going on, we always just move slow,” says one.

    JT Thomas
  • A roughneck wrestles 500-pound “break-out tongs” across the rig deck to unscrew a drill section from the “kelly.” Immediately afterward, another drill length is hoisted into place and screwed into the string. The driling process continues 24-7 until the maximum “trip” depth is achieved.

    JT Thomas

“You’re going to obtain a job. You have to maintain a job,” a Wyoming judge told Joe Laster. “You have the ability to work. You’re a big, strapping young man.”

The judge’s order came on Oct. 31, 2002, in a utilitarian district courtroom on a hilltop in Gillette, a city of 23,000 surrounded by coalbed methane fields and coal mines. Many people in Gillette survive on energy-related jobs, to the degree that the city’s seal, displayed on its trucks and letterhead, boasts, “The Energy Capital of the Nation.” But like most everywhere in America, some people in Gillette also support themselves by selling drugs, and Joe Laster, then 24 years old, had been caught dealing baggies of methamphetamine.

The pre-sentence report, supplemented with information from Laster’s family, sketches his path to that point: He’d lived in a half-dozen states as his parents drifted from job to job in the construction industry, mostly calling an 8-by-45-foot camper trailer home. He’d dropped out of high school, held spotty employment in gas fields and drywalling, had a 2-year-old daughter whose mother he didn’t marry and a rap sheet of 18 misdemeanors, from driving offenses to drugs to booze. He was known on some street corners as “crankhead Joey” and was residing in a campground at the time of his arrest.

The judge and the prosecutor gave Joe Laster a chance to straighten out: In a plea deal, he was put on four to nine years of probation, to be served, at his request, in the state’s local community corrections center, a low-slung, humorless building in an industrial zone on Gillette’s south side. If Laster could put in six good months, living in the corrections center while holding down a job and proving himself drug-free, he would be released to serve the rest of his probation outside custody.

A national nonprofit, Volunteers of America, contracts with the state to run the corrections center; the group has a Christian philosophy, and the center has Jesus portraits and religious slogans on the walls. “You won’t be able to quit or change a job without permission of your probation officer,” the judge warned.

How did Laster fare under that order to work? Though he was in the state’s custody the rest of his life, official sources provide only fragmentary information. His family is more forthcoming.

Taking directions the Lasters had provided, I drive several blocks from the courthouse during one of Gillette’s notorious blizzards, battling slush so deep it scrapes the car’s underbody. I wrestle a turn at Pat’s Liquors, stop at a single-wide trailer sandwiched between other trailers. Right away, the place looks halfway defeated; the front window has cracks held together by a starburst of duct tape. Inside, in the kitchen, Laster’s mother, Peggy, and his father, Ken, both look haggard; they’re missing front teeth and chain-smoking Camels. One of his sisters, Amanda, has damp hair and glowing skin, fresh from the shower.

They’re all angry, the type of anger that refuses to dissipate.

Peggy takes the lead. Between swigs from a quart beer bottle wrapped in a paper bag, she pulls out her stash of documents and snapshots, which, with additional court records, spell out what happened: Joe Laster had a meth relapse in the corrections center and was sent to Wyoming’s toughest prison, in Rawlins. He put effort into recovering from that setback, transferring to a Colorado prison, where he earned his GED, then to a forestry-oriented boot camp in the Wyoming prison system, where he learned to fight wildfires and was in a crew that saved a hundred homes. He took electronics classes and attended substance-abuse programs. He wrote the judge a letter, promising, “I plan to make better decisions in the future.”

By January 2005, Joe Laster made it back to the corrections center in Gillette, where staff helped him get a job with a small private company, Tyvo LLC, that was fixing up old water-well drilling rigs to be used for testing soils in the methane fields. With the current energy boom now into its seventh year, Gillette has essentially zero unemployment, and bosses come to the corrections center and pick up inmates for almost every shift.

About noon on Feb. 21, 2005, Laster and another inmate were working out in the high desert, on a dirt road off a dirt road off a dirt road, on a Tyvo drilling rig that was more than 40 years old. The rig — a 24-foot-tall derrick on a truck bed — hadn’t been in service for three years and needed repairs. The industry hungers for equipment as much as for workers, and in the rush for methane, which often occurs in shallow coalbeds, many water-well rigs have been pressed into service, either to tap the water-methane mix or for soil-testing.

Laster was loosening two stubborn bolts near an exposed, spinning driveshaft. The glove on his right hand snagged on the driveshaft, and in that split second, instinctively, he reached with his left hand. The inexorable machine — revolving at least 800 times per minute — tore off both his arms. He bled to death before the medical helicopter reached him, according to first responders.

Peggy has gone to some trouble to locate the spot where he died, and she shows me snapshots she took of her only son’s blood spilled on the dirt.

“They took my son!” she says. She leans close, sobs, collapses in a chair, rocks back and forth, hugging herself as if she might crack apart and dropping the terrible snapshots face down onto the linoleum.

Joe Laster’s death received almost no news coverage. The Associated Press published a few basics, a total of 101 words. Two investigators from Wyoming’s workplace overseer, the Department of Employment’s Workers’ Safety and Compensation Division, completed an investigation months later. The agency found that Tyvo LLC had violated safety regulations, citing the company for failing to have a guard on the driveshaft that grabbed Laster’s glove, for inadequate training, and for having no first-aid supplies at the site. The agency slapped Tyvo with a fine: $3,375

That doesn’t begin to satisfy Peggy Laster. She is tormented by thoughts that her son’s death has been swept into the brush. She wants a lot more investigation. She talks of the Flight for Life helicopter landing in the wrong place and then doubling back, which a map in a sheriff’s report indicates. Joe had years of experience on drill rigs, she says; he knew this one was a disaster waiting to happen. “It was a Mickey Mouse operation,” says Ken Laster. “He called us (a few days before the accident) and said he wasn’t happy working there.”

The family has few resources for pressing a legal grievance. Four adults — including Amanda’s husband, Justin — and three kids live squeezed into the one-bathroom trailer. But they want to spread the word, even if they also feel they’re taking a real risk meeting with me, a stranger. After all, I could be working for the cops, and, technically, they are fugitives: Arrest warrants are out on Peggy and Ken for driving with suspended licenses and then failing to show up in court.

As they talk about the injustice of what happened to Joe on the Tyvo rig, an irony emerges: Everyone in the trailer depends on the income from a single job, held by Justin, and that job is located in the methane fields that they know, all too well, can be lethal. At 28, Justin has worked there for 11 years already, doing, he says, “everything that needs doing.”

Across town, bosses still swing by the corrections center and pick up inmates and then head out to all sorts of jobs, some of them in the oil and gas fields.


The Lasters’ case burns on one end of the spectrum, but its themes resonate.

From Louisiana to Alaska, oil and gas is an industry in a rush, spurred by a sense of worldwide shortage and entranced by escalated prices and inordinate profits. And the industry targets the Interior West, especially; the region’s summertime total of drilling rigs has soared since 2000, from 204 to 447, according to RigData, a Texas company that tracks the industry. With that increase in drilling and related activities, the number of fatal accidents has also risen. Last year alone, 20 people died doing jobs directly related to drilling and servicing wells in the region. And for the whole time period I studied — 2000 to 2006, roughly encompassing the current boom in coalbed-methane and other natural gas exploration — federal and state records show at least 89 people died working in energy extraction in the states of Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Montana and North Dakota. That toll is almost certainly an understatement, and not just because the average oil and gas death gets less publicity than, say, a fatal traffic wreck. This industry’s true accident totals, fatal and otherwise, are as shrouded in obscurity as the Laster case is.

There is a federal agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, assigned to look out for worker safety. It either handles each state’s workplaces directly, or hands off the duty to state agencies. But the federal and state safety cops don’t seem particularly tough. They can’t do many workplace inspections, because typically there are no more of them now than 20 years ago, straining to cover an explosion in the numbers of workplaces of all types that comes with the West’s population growth. And when workers die in the oil and gas fields, the safety cops levy fines that are so low, compared to the profits being reaped, that families often view the penalties as insulting and outrageous.

Other aspects of state laws also appear to be rigged against accident victims and their families, making it all but impossible for them to sue even in the face of apparently extraordinary management negligence. At times, the industry and the whole government system treat tenaciously loyal workers as if they were as disposable as a broken drill bit. The victims’ own character traits — from stoicism to lack of formal education to a tendency to use alcohol or drugs or both — often set them up to take the hit.

But there is a less downtrodden end of the death-and-energy spectrum, and I find it by taking the two-lane along the Bear River north from Evanston, Wyo., another oil-and-gas town. Past the office of Baker Hughes Fishing Services (the “fishing” that drillers do trying to hook things lost down the holes) and the turnoff for the big natural-gas plants that Chevron and BP have tucked into the hills, I take a series of dirt roads and finally come to the handsome log home where Kaylee and Bill Bryant have seven acres backed against the ice-rimmed river.

Bill greets me at the door, a polite, lean man with weathered gray eyes and a handlebar mustache; he’s wearing a blue Wrangler shirt, jeans and a tooled-silver belt buckle. He invites me into a living room that is grandly Western: soaring ceiling, draw-shaved logs from a local mill, sanded plank floors, fire flickering in the stove. Kaylee also shakes my hand politely, and on hers there’s the noticeable twinkle of the big diamond wedding ring Bill bought her 32 years ago. They’ve decorated their house with an array of cowboy stuff: Bill’s grandfather’s chaps, Bill’s father’s saddle, the chaps Bill had as a kid, and Kaylee’s spurs hang on the walls or the railing of the interior balcony. They both speak with a slight country drawl.

"I was born and bred cowboy," Bill says.

Apr 02, 2007 02:32 PM

Was Mr Ring the only journalist investigating this story for HCN?

Apr 02, 2007 03:55 PM

What a joke! To say that HCN gives a flip about the people who work in the oil and gas industry just plain insults my intelligence.

Ring can't write cedibly about working on a rig becasue he's never been on one.    

Apr 03, 2007 11:31 AM

The only joke is your ignorance in denying facts.  You're obviously a "big oil" greedy bastard who puts profits over people or you work for a slimy workers' comp ins. co. (same motives, no difference) whose favorite motto is "deny, deny, deny" and screw injured workers and their families out of the pitance they have to beg for and have paid coverage for.  YOU'VE obviously never worked in the trenches, in the oil biz, or you'd know the backbone of the industry is the blue collar workers, the roughnecks, who are treated like empty beer cans - sorry, no deposit, no return, you got hurt makin me money, see ya!

Apr 04, 2007 04:08 PM

I've never worked in the oilfields, but I spent 20 years (1979-2000) in surface mining as an oiler, a haul-truck driver, a heavy equipment operator, & a blast-hole driller.  Mr. Ring's story is just the beginning of awareness of the indifference management has toward its shift-workers.  I had a foreman tell me he didn't give a damn about me, he just wanted a functioning body running the equipment - he also used to time our run-cycles & threaten suspension if our times were 'poor'.  A major mining company in Nevada has computerized monitors on their haul-trucks that require the driver to constantly log his activity: hauling, loading, dumping, bathroom-break... these same drivers do 'hot' shift changes - swap out with the previous shift driver while running in the pit without the opportunity to inspect the truck before driving it.  Drillers are challenged on the amount of footage they get in a shift, regardless of the weather, ground conditions, state of repair of the equipment, & the driller is held accountable for any down-time, tho' blast-hole drillers have no helpers & seldom have any back-up.  When I drilled we didn't even have radios to call for help, & usually we were drilling away from the main pit in an area they could blast the next day without shutting down production.  OSHA & MSHA have nowhere near enough people & resources to effectively monitor the 'resource' industries.  The companies' attitude clearly is to 'take-the-money-&-run', & not worry about any consequences.  I do understand the folks who work there, as it's probably the best paycheck they'll ever get, but I'll never understand the company CEOs or CFOs. 

Apr 06, 2007 12:50 AM

Anonymous No. 2 MUST be an oil company flack, or else brainwashed from free oil-company ice.

Apr 09, 2007 11:37 AM

From Ray Ring, answering some questions and charges in this comment string: I've been on a couple of drilling rigs, and for this High Country News project, I did the investigation, with oversight from our top editor, John Mecklin.

Apr 09, 2007 01:13 PM

Another good reason to shut down domestic energy and mineral production.  Production should occur outside our borders where there is less worker and environmental protection.

Apr 10, 2007 05:38 PM

This great piece of journalism makes me want to weep. How can our lawmakers be so careless to allow this crap to continue? We need state and federal OSHA enforcement and reform! Thanks, Mr. Ring and HCN for exposing a side or our energy consumption that few consider.

Apr 13, 2007 01:20 PM

Any unnecessary loss of life is tragic, and we should be empathetic to the pain and suffering of family members.

A simple review of the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics' Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/cfoi.pdf , however, indicates that there are much more dangerous industries in which to work.

Perhaps a followup article, with a review of those facts, would be appropriate.

Apr 16, 2007 11:05 AM

Gentlemen, it's a shame that any one has to be maimed or killed doing any thing.

But the fact remains that there are more people killed each year in cars, swimming pools, & by other means than in oilfield accidents.

I have worked in the oilfield off & on for 50 years & still have all my fingers. I have Roughnecked, Drilled, Pushed tools, & Consulted for many different companys and I do not know of any compatent Operator that wants to cut corners to the point of causing anyone to be hurt letalone be killed.

All of the Operators that I have worked for spend more money in a day on safety than most people make in a year or a lifetime for that matter.

The fact still remains, you can't watch everyone all the time and the safety equipment is there for all to use any time they need it.

You can't teach common sense, it is inherited I think and that is what most of the accidents boil down to is not thinking the job through.

We hold asfety meetings before any job change, we have and fill near miss reoprts and report any mishap on any property we oversee, people, property, or any thing dammaged.

I think that anyone who writes a story on any subject should at least have some idea about what they are writing about and you don't do that in 2-4-6-8-10 months or a year.

If you can't at least talk intelegently about a subject, maybe you shouldn't wright about it either.

Thanks for your time.

Bobby Cooper

Apr 17, 2007 11:11 AM

This is just another simple case of sensationalizm in our society. This article in no way portarys what it is like in the drilling industry.  As an oil field worker i know the great lengths that companys go through to train and educate people on safety.  Again if the people chose not to use it or cut corners, such as Colton and the other gentelmen who lost his arms by wroking on moving equipment, it is not the companies fault.  when is the time these people start taking responsibility for there own actions. If you did investigate any of these incidents, I call them them incidents because they are not accidents, you would discover that all are do to human error by cutting corners or not following company procedure. I challenge Mr. Ring to contact a drilling contractor and see exactly what strides they have taken to protect there life blood which is the roughnecks themselves.

companies and procedure
Jacky Seward
Jacky Seward
May 05, 2009 05:23 PM
20 years as a roughneck and i cannot count the times i have been told not to shut down equipment before or while working on it. At that time it is either do it or lose your job, we have families to feed and bills to pay. My stepdad was hurt by a faulty forklift 3 months after it was reported, I had to have 2 fingers sewed back on from a spinning chain that was held together by a bolt that the pusher put on, A 22 year old coworker was killed in august of 06 when the pusher dropped the derrick19 feet onti the headache rack while raising it and twisted the crown. when we inspected the crown we told the pusher and the company man. Guess what we were told, aahh it will be fine we cant AFFORD to wait for an inspector. 12 days later the blocks fell through the floor and killed a 22 year old husband and father. After osha released their findings it seems that the twisted crown put stress on the pin shiv and it snapped as well as 32 fresh breaks in welds. so tell me again how any of these are the victims fault. Exactly who was neglegent here. Company policies are, simply put, BULL. they are not enforced because they cost money and time.And lets face it, roughnecks are nothing but a strong back and a weak mind to ANY company. We are nothing more than a replacable money machine.
Jacky Seward
Katharine Harlow
Katharine Harlow
Oct 22, 2010 03:45 PM

Can you please call me about this when you have a moment. I am a reporter and working on a story about this issue. My phone number is 212-275-8517.

Thanks you.
Katharine Harlow
Apr 27, 2007 03:40 PM


I work in the oilfields now; I"m a derrickhand. WHile I respect anyone with 50 years in the fields I also say; crap to the perceived value of "safety meetings". I also have to write at least one job description report and one near miss/stop report each shift; everyone on the shift has to sign it. We, often, don't even remember what it was about. It's only there for looks.

I can say this because if safety of employees were a major concern then why do we ALWAYS have to cut corners for production? Last night, no stop on the catwalk but I was told to "chain off" the pipe and then not allowed to grab a "boomer" to do it properly. A procedure, I assure you, would have taken me less than a minute to complete. Of course the pipe shot out and landed 12 feet off the catwalk; no one batted an eye. For those that don't know it was what's called a 20 pound pipe; meaning it weighs twenty pounds a foot and it was 31 feet long. It FELL 5o feet and slid another 45 before stopping; anything even close to in the way would have been dead.

 When a crown falls down and kills two men because of metal fatigue and the companies total liability is less than the cost of a decent house; something's wrong. Two men died this summer because a 35 year old rig wasn't properly inspected and literaly, collapsed under, what many would agree, were normal operating parameters.

 When 4 men are hospitalized and one dies when a tornado hit on our jobsite in the panhandle of Texas; I was there. We tripped pipe out of the hole WITHOUT inspecting the rig. I asked of course, and was assured that the rig is built to take such winds. WEll, the boom pole apparently didn't get the memo because it was just hanging from it's "safety" cable and that wasn't found until the morning after.

 I like my job. Im damn good at it. but, it seems, more and more, I feel like I'm working for a serial killer.


Big Rick Ellington 

Jun 25, 2007 12:04 PM

I am a roughfneck and I agree with bobby cooper I

Jul 27, 2007 04:06 PM

Thank you, Ray, for a superbly reported and written story. This is the kind of journalism that affects policy. It's no easy task to plow through government reports and court records and then drive to the homes of the individuals involved - sometimes the surviving family members - and talk to them about their experiences and their loss. My only lament is that more news organizations don't take the time and resources to foster this kind of work. Congratulations on a job well done. 


Robert Struckman 

Aug 02, 2007 11:12 AM

i found this article interesting but expected to read more about what the families have to settle for as their future compensation...sad...my husband, scott taylor, was just killed working on a rig in riverton, wy., june 29th, 2007. my sole provider for 30yrs & he made about $60,000.00 a year, give or take a few...(went from $34.00hr. down to $18.00hr to work in the yard building a small rig)... not one person has called to let me know what i might expect, if anything, to help me survive. we are raising a granddaughter, 6yrs old now, since the age of 9mths..nothing for her because we only have full custody & not adopted....must wait 2 more years for drawing his ssi...it's been a month now..shut off notices are being sent now but no money in sight...(i DO have some candles tucked away...) well, all the 'if there's anything i can do' people have stopped calling or visiting...yes, the roughnecks ARE disposable..apparently their families are also...

Aug 27, 2007 11:20 AM

I think Bobby Cooper's points are valid.  I work in this industry and take every precaution when I am on a drilling rig.  You have to think about what you are doing every minute.  If you use drugs or anything to impair your judgement, you shouldn't be anywhere near this equipment.  When I was younger I climbed telephone poles everyday.  I met fellow employees that suffered from falls and after observing the damage to their bodies, I climbed scared every day.  I think that fear kept me thinking about my safety and never taking anything for granted.  I would not take any risk while climbing and I never got hurt during that seven year stint.  The potential for personal injury in the drilling business is actually lower by percentage when compared to other industries, but it is a dangerous business and many of the persons employed in this industry fail to be accountable for their actions.  I note that here in Oklahoma, every rig that I have been associated with, that safety reminders are everywhere and I am warned by a tool pusher or company man before I head up to the doghouse or a platform.  If you are thinking about working in this industry, I would suggest that you purchase a good term life insurance policy and protect your loved ones from financial loss in the event you are killed on the job.  I carry a half a million and a million dollar personal floater.  The rates are cheap.  I would like to see the industry purchase policies on their workers, but wouldn't be surprised that if a worker is killed accidentally, and the insurance company finds out that the worker has been on speed or some other mind altering drug, they probably wouldn't pay the claim.

Sep 11, 2007 11:26 AM

My ex husband was killed going to work in an Oil feild in roberts county TExas.It was HIm and three other workers....One of them was the night shift supervisor...He(night crew supervisor) was never told or called by Unit drilling co..the Company they work for to not go to work..they had no Idea there was a massive fire that was going to kill them all.Although the Media says one story I dont believe for a second that They intentionally went ahead to the Fire stricken area..I ask my self time and time and again..why if this was a multimillion dollar company did not have the appropriate means or will to notify their workers........It just blows my mind and I cannot help but cry and know that my son will never ever see his Father ever again in his entire Lifetime.................Blood sucking scummbags..thats what they are..and I know the Vengence belongs to God..thats what keeps me going..One day we will all  be called upon to everything..we have done in this life..This article has touched my Heart because my Ex husband also had a lengthy history with the Law and that was basically the only job he made enough money in to support his kids..

Oct 01, 2007 11:44 AM

The bottom line is......everybody AND I MEAN EVERYBODY, who becomes involved in the oil and gas industry knows the risk. ESPECIALLY ON DRILLING RIGS. Its just like the military, once you sign on, you can pretty much sign your life away. Its a risky job, but in the end worth it. Out on the rigs, it all comes down to, PAYING ATTENTION and being alert. It a safe environment if you will just pay attention.....

Nov 19, 2007 11:31 AM

    Fatalities in the petrolieum industry are covered, after they are swept under a huge rug. We as roughnecks have to rely on word of mouth on any and all accidents and or fatalities. Here in West Texas, roughnecks as a whole are not a tighly knit group or brotherhood. We survive in a world where relatives and in-laws takes precidence over merit,which leads to insuffient experience in higher and more responsible positions. This inexperience means we have 20 year olds as drillers and toolpushers working the seasoned hands that are still available . Many veteran roughnecks have opted to seek their livelyhood else-where for this reason. Now we have many,many worms that have not the knowledge to think on the run or visualize in advance any ever-changing danger that has the possibility to exist.                                       All the money in the world cannot buy the instant training and experience as the contractor or producer prefers to beleive. All the JSA's and safety meetings don't mean squat til we induce competant personell to relieve this problem. Having endured 30 plus years of booms and busts, I have witnessed all walks of life and seen'em come and go. We are having to rely on completely different minded generations to deliver our loved ones home safely. Try this for an example, the average age for soldger in world war II was 25 years old , average age in Nam was 18 years old. A worlds difference in mindset, would'nt one think so?                                 As for the notification and reporting of accidents and fatalities , the oil companies and contractors are swift to hide any info. Leaving the loved ones to grieve alone and in complete silence. The less the public and media knows , the better off they and the insurance companies are. It is and should be OSHA's responsiblility to report publicly all accidents to mainstream america.

Feb 21, 2008 05:06 PM

I HAVE done my time in the oil patch, working the fields of Oklahoma and West Texas. The pay is real but so are the risks. Make no mistake, these companies care very little about the safety of workers, it is ALL about profit. The main reason these companies harp on safety the way they do is to limit liability and create an enviroment where they can accuse the victim of not following standards, thereby creating their own problems. An example are 100% harness zones. Sometimes that simply is not realistic, even if just moving the harness from one secure point to another, however, if any accidents occur, they have an "out" that the emplyee did not follow safety rules.


Mar 17, 2008 11:37 AM

I just found this site 5 months after my brother was killed at a rig in Grand Junction colorado.

We still do not have an OSHA report .  Our family has gone forward with a lawsuit against Nabors, and Encana.     They didn't even have the decency to contact us when he was killed or talk to us when we came out there to retrieve his remains and personal belongings.

When asked by the so called safety officer if the site could be released to work again(just hours after my brothers death) the on site OSHA official said yes.  So that would indicate to me that the osha investigation was complete   right???    Sounds like a pay off to me.  This man doing this report has the nerve to go on a vacation knowing that we are waiting on this report.   I wonder who is paying for this vacation ,  maybe Ecana or Nabors or the state of Colorado. 


My heart and tears go out to all of you who are or have been in this situation.  



May 19, 2008 11:16 AM

MY husband has worked in this oil field for 30 plus years and I can honestly say we have worked for every company in this news piece  and cyclone drilling  is the best in my opinion I my self love cyclones rig 12 it is an old rig emsco drawworks 57 serial # most likely built in 51  a bit of history there .My comment is that if you get hurt your shit out of luck and that is the way it is . is it right no I worry very much about my husband and four boys all who work in this oil field in the rocky mountains area I tell my young sons they have the power to shut the rig down if it is not safe but it only works if they have the balls to speak truth to the powers that be .I have two sons who have walked off there jobs in the last two years because of un safe conditions one son took his whole crew with him when he walked the other son walked  with the derrick hand . Safety is a personal issue you either are or you are not .some times shit happens and it does not matter how safe you are because there are 4 other guys out there   with you  .and every one know that we all have our days good and bad . do things need to change yes . will It I don,t know . what I do know is if your working in the oil field you don,t put your body parts where you would never put your  winger dinger   and that is what I tell my boys keep those fingers  hands feet arms  legs and head  intact . it is dangerous work that is for sure and you can figure out by reading this article how much value your life is worth and that is the saddest thing of of all not worth a pot of beans when it come to the bottom line and untill we place a higher value on our people life it will continue to be the way it alway has make hole keep it turning to the right what ever the cost 

Jun 23, 2008 11:57 AM

 I haved worked in the oilfield 20 yrs on and offshore. the most dangerous thing I have worked around was a mans ego. I agree with the writer of this story keep up the good work. I would hate to work with some of these guys that commented on this page

Jun 24, 2008 11:44 AM

 Had to say one more thing mr.rick ellington got it right.I have had the same feeling.thanks rick

Many jobs stink
M R Amell
M R Amell
Mar 28, 2010 02:59 PM
I'll be 51 in July and have worked many a job, none in the oil/gas industry where the corporate powers that be care only about one thing..Money and nothing but money.
I worked in a plastics factory several years back where a fellow employee had an arm crushed completely off where a simple $5 guard could have saved his arm. I've worked as a spray painter where I shot over 70 gallons of oil based paint a week by myself and would wake up every morning completely numb from both elbows and knees down. When I finally was forced to quit rather than stay on the job and die a slow death from toxicity our home was foreclosed and que-sera ..
I've worked many jobs where my personal safety was so far down on the list of priorities that I feel that these companies cared more for my foot prints that soiled their plush office carpets than my life. After all, I wasn't paid all that high and could have been replaced at a moments notice. They would have let me die and never so much as offer my family a buck for my services.
This trend almost slowed once upon a time when we almost has strong worker rights, but republicans sold all that to China long ago. Someday people will be swimming the Rio Grande (or whatever is left of it) just to go work in Mexico as opposed to working in a land of toxic sludge where the air is unbreathable and water undrinkable.
Jun 04, 2010 09:29 PM
Nobody is being forced to work in this industry. If you work here, you know full well the possibilities.

Everybody wants to know where their money is for the deceased loved ones. You all make me sick. Your brother/father/uncle/whathaveyou dies and all you can think about it how much money someone owes you, and then you have to gall to turn around and accuse oil companies of only caring about money. Give me a break. Oil companies keep it hush-hush for one reason: Bad PR. Natural Gas is a necessity. The last thing our COUNTRY needs is a bunch of tree hugging hippies who watch too much news to dedicate their lives to shutting us down.

Get real everybody, oil and gas isn't the most dangerous thing you can do. Spend one day in a factory and you'll know this like I know this. Can rigs be more safe? Absolutely. Everything can be. But you can't foresee the future. Shit happens, like it or not. Only thing you can do is learn from the mistakes and rectify it. Deaths and injuries have decreased tremendously over the last 100 years. But you can't fix a problem before you know it exists. It takes an accident. All you can hope for is a near miss, but that isn't always the case.

Also, quite frankly, for all the people who come up positive for speed after death, I have no sympathy. Meth only stays in your system for a few days before it's undetectable. That means those guys were higher than a kite trying to run a rig. No sympathy, and they deserve nothing. Come to work sober or don't come at all. Anybody want to know why the big bad oil company didn't inform you of your loved one's death? Because they didn't want to be the one to tell you that your loved one was a fucking tweaker, and probably nearly killed everybody else on his crew while he was at it.

I've walked off more than one rig for safety. There's nobody forcing you to stay. If you're a good enough hand, they'll fix the problem or you'll find another job. The end.

At the end of the day, if this line of work scares you, and you're mad that the big bad oil companies can't prevent you from getting hurt or possibly losing your life, maybe you're in the wrong industry. McDonald's is hiring. Have a nice day.

Roughnecks -- email me
Katharine Harlow
Katharine Harlow
Oct 22, 2010 03:50 PM
Just reading the comments from some of you who work on oil fields. I am a reporter and working on a story about this. Please call me at 212-275-8517 or email me at poppy.harlow@turner.com. I would like to hear your story.
Heartless owner and managers
Danielle Pepper
Danielle Pepper
Oct 28, 2010 11:57 PM
My father is in that article. I promise you that company didn't pay enough of a fine. He lost his life trying to earn a living. It is sickening that all they had to do is get off their butts and bring the equipment and he'd be alive today.
Gudrun  Scott
Gudrun Scott
Oct 05, 2011 01:01 PM
I am a nurse and I worked a lot of 8 hour shifts and then it went at times to 12 hour shifts and I saw the accident report in Pa at Clearfield around June 2010 where a hydrofracked well lost control and the company never called the local emergency because they did not know who to call and obviously never bothered to inquire. The accident report said that the workers worked not one shift but they were on their third consequtive shift so abut 30 hours working straight-- how can that be possibly safe??? What drugs are they taking to keep awake? Must be more than coffee. Then when they get a brake they stay at a "man camp" and do not go home for the sever straight days that they work -- sort of like is done on an offshore rig. How healthy can that be for the family and the worker? These are basics that have to be regulated by the government to stop this. This destroys families as well as making the work accident prone.

Everybody in the community has to care to have a safe work environment and if not- there is increased violence and drug abuse that is documented to be the case in the boom and bust of this industry.

We have to care about more than money- even if we are poor or we are rich.

Just writing this article has been very important to open our eyes to what we as a civilized country must do for the energy companies to operate with fairness and care for humanity.

I have watched a documentary called "Trinkets and Beads" ( title comes from offering trinkets and beads to the natives as well as oil company bringing a minister with them to convert the natives to Christianity and thereby convince them to sell off their rights) It was shown on Link TV. It is about the Equador rainforest that was destroyed along with the native Indians from oil and gas drilling in the 1990s -- Texaco is being sued now and will have to pay millions but the place is full of illness and toxic waste and destroyed-- this all resulted in enough energy to run the USA for 1 day!!!!!

The problems about these oil companies refusing to stop burning fossil fuel and driving us into climate change---

Everybody should help in the heavy lifting to make a change for the better -- start by saving and not wasting any money and respect your body - get enough sleep and love those who are your family and learn learn learn and work with your community-- we can all be better persons- even the oil companies- or especially them....
kay smith
kay smith
Jan 23, 2012 12:47 AM

Who is keeping up with the rig accidents in the east? There was a near fatal accident near Pittsburgh, 12-30-09 where the air lines froze up, someone went to fix the lines & got pulled into the driveshaft. Osha did a "partial" investigation, there was no penalties to the rig for not having a shield over the drive shaft & the person that was hurt can't remember anything. Still under a Drs. care & found out when he got a letter from WC for an impairment rating evaluation (which is the 1st step to getting someone Off WC), that he had 2 bones broke in his back, & none of the Drs. has even mentioned this. What is he supposed to do? He was told that a "greenhorn" had kicked the driveshaft back on while he was down there.