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Texas oil service company fined for fatal wellhead explosion

17 September 2015

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is proposing fines of $50,400 against Mason Well Service of Odessa, Texas, for five serious and one repeat safety violations following the wellhead explosion in Upton County that killed three people last March. The victims were installing a blowout preventer on the well when the explosion occurred.

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OSHA said the company failed to separate flammable liquids and gases from sources of ignition and did not ensure its workers wore hydrogen sulfide monitors and flame-resistant clothing.

OSHA investigators identified two factors that increased the ignition risk - the company allowed a pickup to drive near the well and its employees smoked nearby. OSHA penalised the company for similar violations in 2014.

Midland-based Parsley Energy owned the well and contracted Mason to install the blowout preventer, but was not cited for any violations.

“This is a heartbreaking and senseless case,” Elizabeth Linda Routh, OSHA’s area director in Lubbock, said in a statement. “Though the fines for the serious violations are the maximum amount allowed by law, no dollar amount can ease the loss felt by family and friends.”

Mason has the option to contest the fines. 

The Workers Defense Fund, an Austin-based advocacy group, said the fine was on the low side for an incident that killed three people.

David Michaels, OSHA’s director, has bemoaned his agency’s inability to impose harsher penalties for major violations. The US Congress has not raised maximum fine levels for workplace safety violations since 1990.

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