The 2nd Annual Eagle Ford Safety and Equipment Rodeo Roundup is history now. Attendance at the October 2nd event in Pearsall, Texas – the heart of the Eagle Ford Shale play – rocked last year’s numbers of over 600. Attendees enjoyed beautiful weather and the opportunity to meet with plenty of oil and gas related vendors. For fun, there was an equipment rodeo that gave backhoe operators the chance to “throw down” and see who’s the best in the west at picking up small objects and moving them into scoring containers. And there was food – Dirt Road Cookers was there with their giant wood fired pizza oven on wheels, there was barbecue, there were Texas811 snow cones – no one went away hungry from this event!
But the highlight of the day was a sobering demonstration in safety. A mock gas line hit was set up by Williams. The scenario started off with a line marking, showing a raw natural gas line being marked near a distribution wellhead. The line apparently was quite near another utility line, and the excavator called in a hydro-vac service. Unfortunately, the contractor in charge saw this as a waste of time, ordered the hydro-vac away from the scene, and told the excavator in no uncertain terms to get busy.
So – the backhoe was started – and in only a couple of minutes, a gas line was struck.
Compressed air provided the “gas” in this instance, spewing up out of the strike. And there was something else to consider. While the end consumer product of natural gas is composed almost entirely of methane, the original raw product as it comes out of the ground has many mixtures of trace compounds and gases as well as oil and water which must be removed prior to use. It is not unusual for raw natural gas to contain helium, nitrogen, carbon dioxide and water vapor. Raw gas can also contain hydrogen sulfide, or H2S. According to OSHA, hydrogen sulfide gas causes a “wide variety of health effects. The effects depend on how much hydrogen sulfide you breathe, and for how long. Exposure to very high concentrations can quickly lead to death.”
For the scenario, the backhoe operator was quickly overcome by H2S and collapsed next to his machine. His partner, standing a safe distance away, quickly called 911.
Because of the danger of the H2S, firefighters had to suit up in special haz-mat suits and do a perimeter check before they could even consider approaching the downed worker.
And unfortunately, once they were able to remove him to the EMS unit, he had passed away. A justice of the peace signed a death certificate, and a hearse arrived to carry the body from the scene – as his grief-stricken wife watched in horror.
All because shortcuts were made in excavation safety. Was the cost worth it for NOT using the hydro-vac truck to discern the location of the pipes in such close proximity to each other? It’s a question the contractor in charge will be asking himself for the rest of his life.
Making the call to 811 is just a part of the overall safe excavation equation – but it’s the first step on a well-thought out safety plan.
Because a workday that ends like this – isn’t part of anyone’s plans.