Recently, seven people were injured (four seriously) in Doddridge County, West Virginia after an explosion at a hydraulic fracturing site. Hydraulic fracturing — also known as “fracking” — is a process through which oil and gas companies obtain difficult to reach oil deposits. A well is drilled, and then liquid mixture containing water and chemicals is pumped in at high pressure. The pressurized liquid creates fractures that allow for the release of oil and gas.
Hydraulic fracturing has come under criticism for its safety and environmental impact. In this case, the hydraulic fracturing site explosion happened in the early morning at the Hinterer 2H well in New Milton. Workers were busy fracturing a well when something nearby exploded, either in or around the fracturing pump. One worker claimed that it was the tank that recovered water and other materials after they returned to the surface. The explosion then led to a fire. Authorities are still trying to determine the possible cause. Four workers suffered burns that were thought to be life threatening and were flown to a burn center in Pittsburgh. They were not employees, but rather worked for three different contractors.
The company that owns the well is Antero Resources, which owns nearly 400 wells overall in Doddridge, Ritchie, Harrison, Upshur, and Tyler counties. At least 141 wells are currently being drilled. Antero Resources has a history of safety problems. In August 2012, a spark at one of its wells in Harrison County ignited methane gas, causing a fireball and then a fire that burned for a full hour before being extinguished. Antero Resources received a citation for the incident, and has received 17 citations total in the past three years from the Department of Environmental Protection. Most citations have been purely related to environmental rather than safety problems.
No doubt authorities will investigate thoroughly to determine whether Antero Resources could have done anything to prevent the accident, or whether it was something that no one could have foreseen. Typically, if an injured worker is an independent contractor, he or she is not eligible for workers’ compensation. However, if the injured workers in this case were employees of other companies working for Antero, they could presumably collect workers’ compensation from them.
When an employee is injured on the job, even if he or she is at fault for the accident, the employee can receive workers’ compensation payments during the time spent recovering. Unfortunately for the employee, that is all he or she can receive — by law, when an employer purchases workers’ compensation insurance, the employee automatically waives his or her right to file a lawsuit. However, the employee can still hire a West Virginia personal injury attorney and file a suit against a third party involved in the accident, such as an equipment manufacturer. The employee might also require an experienced attorney in cases where his or her workers’ compensation request is unfairly denied. Sometimes an employee can be accused of malingering, or lying about the source of the injuries. An experienced attorney might be able to help that employee during the appeals process.