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Know the West

"The Jungle" of the West


I thought “Death in the Energy Fields” was fair, thorough and careful (HCN, 4/2/07). Through it, the many complex sides of what is going on were made clear to the reader. All the same, I came away thinking that we have to do better than this.

In most industrial settings, the kind of safety shortfalls that were described here, and the lack of meaningful penalties for carelessness were simply astounding. This was like reading about the meatpacking industry in the early 20th century that was exposed to a horrified public by Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.

I am a retiree from Los Alamos National Laboratory. A series of injuries there, while serious, were relatively minor in comparison to the horror stories described in the HCN article on the oil and gas industry in the intermountain West.

Nevertheless, Los Alamos National Laboratory was essentially shut down for months, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars to the U.S. taxpayer. The University of California, which has operated Los Alamos for more than 60 years as sole source contractor, was replaced by a new management team, with transition costs and impacts on the workforce of truly Herculean proportions.

How can we, then, as a nation, tolerate such lack of oversight and accountability in one major industry when we no longer accept it in almost all others? (Perhaps hardrock mining and ocean fishing are other exceptions, but I do not have access to quality safety data.) Even while making it clear that there are serious problems of worker abuse of drugs and alcohol which play a role in the injuries and fatalities that occur, nevertheless, I cannot believe that we can or should accept this situation.

Kenneth Alan Collins
> Santa Fe, New Mexico <B>