Roughnecks killed by cavalier working conditions

MARCH 28, 2008


High Country News Northern Rockies editor Ray Ring is at it again. After winning the George Polk Award last year, Ring has written another block-buster story, detailing in stark human terms just how dangerous working in the oil and gas fields of the American West can be, and just how cavalier oil and gas companies have been about protecting their human resources. Ring uncovered a disconcerting number of fatal accidents in the field and a disconcerting tendency of government regulators to fine drilling companies making tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars each year pittances — a couple of thousand dollars — for safety violations that kill.

“The core of the story can be classified as straightforward investigative coup. In six months of amassing documents, scouring lawsuits and prodding databases, Ring was able to map out the general scope of a little-noticed reality: Since the start of the second Bush presidency, as skyrocketing energy prices drove a wild increase in oil and gas drilling across the Interior West, the number of oil and gas workers killed in and around drill rigs also rose relentlessly,” says HCN editor John Mecklin.

To read this outstanding story and view additional OSHA documents, a photo gallery and other special Web features visit

To reprint this story (shorter versions are available), contact HCN syndication representative, Ed Ashby, at [email protected] or call 800-311-5852.

Ray Ring, covering the Northern Rockies from his base in Bozeman, Mont., noticed a string of fatal accidents in the region’s oil and gas industry in 2005 and 2006. As he looked further, he found more accidents and a pattern of underreporting by news media, oil and gas companies and worker-safety agencies. During months of subsequent reporting, Ring filed more than two dozen federal and state freedom-of-information requests for records and statistics from worker-safety agencies in seven states and Washington, D.C. In the end, he gathered safety agency investigative reports — or as they’re sometimes known, narratives — on more than 100 accidents. He also reviewed dozens of lawsuits and countless other documents and interviewed a wide variety of agency officials, lawyers, academics, industry leaders and, of course, workers and families whose lives have been irrevocably changed by injury and death in the oil and gas fields of the Mountain West.

More about High Country News
High Country News is a nonprofit news magazine that reports on the West's natural resources, public lands, and changing communities. Covering 11 western states, from the Great Plains to the Northwest, and from the Northern Rockies to the desert Southwest, High Country News is a respected source for environmental news, analysis and commentary on water, logging, wildlife, grazing, wilderness, growth and other issues changing the face of the West.

The 37-year-old news magazine has been interpreting the West since its founding in Wyoming by rancher and environmentalist Tom Bell. Now published from Paonia, Colorado, High Country News is a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation.

Thirteen years of HCN’s journalism can by found on its Web site,

970-527-4898 x19 OR E-MAIL [email protected]

High Country News Classifieds