Romanian Fracking worker dies on the job, as toxic frack chemicals kill or harm many more around the world

Chevron has begun drilling operations at the soon-to-be-fracked site near Pungesti, Romania, and exploratory fracking work should begin shortly.  According to an unconfirmed report on Facebook, posted by Maria Olteanu, the first worker fatality has occurred at the site on the night of 18-19 May, 2014.

Here’s the English text of their press release (click through to the Facebook posting for other languages)

A fatal work accident has occurred the night of 18-19 May on the Chevron platform in the village of Pungesti, Romania, where a worker employed by the Dafora company has lost his life.  According to local sources belonging to the Movement of Resistance in the village, the worker, who died instantly, was a victim of lethal substances stored in the immediate vicinity of the well.  Despite draconian restrictions, anonymous sources within the Dafora company have confirmed the tragic event.  Also, villagers reported the presence of an ambulance on site, and unusual activities within the Chevron occupied perimeter.  From information obtained so far, the body was transported to the Institute of Legal Medicine in Bacau, and the prosecutors and work inspectors have started an inquest into this case.  The fact that the press has not yet been tipped off about this serious incident leads us to believe that authorities are trying to suppress any information, in order to avoid fueling fears among the population and environmental activists with regards to the extreme toxicity of the substances that will be injected into the soil.  Just as a reminder, Chevron recently started exploration work through hydraulic fracking in Pungesti, despite strong opposition from the local population.
I’ve covered the strong opposition mounted by the local population to Chevron’s fracking operations in several earlier postings.

A bit of yahoogling turned up quite a bit of data indicating there are huge risks for workers and people who live near frack sites.  There is a witches brew of chemicals used in fracking jobs, some of which escape into the atmosphere or have to be disposed when the produced water comes to the surface.  It’s not just chemicals, but the sand used in frack jobs is so fine it can enter the lungs, become part of the lung tissue, and then cause “silicosis” which is kind of similar to the black lung disease suffered by coal miners.

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Unfortunately the fracking industry has gotten sweeping immunity from all kinds of environmental and health safety laws.  As a result the amount of official study and reporting on these issues is approximately zero.  Nada.  What’s worse, there is an effort to criminalize discussing these risks.

The information below is a brief summary of an hour of yahoogling, and I came up with a litany of horrible toxic poisonous chemicals.

The U.S. is beginning to export fracking technology to countries all around the world.  The goal is to frack every shale deposit, so the oil companies can keep us addicted to fossil fuels, damn the consequences.  The environmentalists of the world are all up in arms about climate change impacts of continuing fossil fuel consumption.  Are they as worried about the toxic chemicals used in the process?

The Institute for Southern Studies posted statistics in 2012 saying frack site workers are 4x more likely to die on the job than the average worker.

In 2012, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) posted a warning over worker exposure to silica during fracking operations.  Fracking uses prodigious quantities of sand, along with the frack chemicals, pumped underground, blasting the bedrock with explosions, to force cracks so the natural gas or oil can escape.  The sand, a.k.a. silica, can be ground finely enough that the particles are small enough to enter the gas-exchange regions of the lungs.  In severe enough cases the lungs fill up with silica, and the worker develops “silicosis” or the disease name you’re labeled with if you’re unfortunate enough to have breathed in enough silica.  OSHA recommends high quality filter masks to mitigate the risk.

A slide deck by Dr. Larysa Dyrszka, MD, on the potential health impacts from shale gas drilling (a.k.a. Fracking) shows there’s a horrid witches brew of possible catastrophic problems.  Further, U.S. law has granted sweeping exemptions from all kinds of environmental and health protection laws.

Toxic air pollutants around frack sites include

 

Natural Gas (Methane)
Benzene, Tuolene, Ethylbenzene, and Xylene (BTEX)
Hydrogen Sulfide
Particulate matter
Radon
Volatile Organic Compounds

The chemical mix of fracking chemicals is proprietary trade secret, and the government regulators generally aren’t told what’s being used.  It is known that frack chemicals include suspected carcinogens, mutagens, endocrine disruptors, neurotoxins, hazardous air pollutants.

Known chemicals besides the ones above include napthalene, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, formaldehyde, and 2-Butoxyethanol (2BE).  That last is a known constituent of Corexit, the dispersent chemical used in oil spills to hide the oil spill – it’s a known carcinogen.  So, to destroy evidence of oil spills we’re allowing oil companies to spray carcinogens all over the place.  Great.

In some places, Radon and other naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) get released through the fracking process, and are part of the produced water.  Not only is the “waste water” from the frack job poisonously full of toxic chemicals, it might be radioactive.

Not only have fracking operations received sweeping immunity from environmental and health laws, there is no government agency anywhere in the U.S. tracking anything about the impact of these operations.  In fact, there are often policies and non-disclosure agreements that prevent the agencies from doing anything.  North Carolina just passed a law making it a criminal offense to expose information about fracking chemicals.

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Where those slides are full of medical jargon, the Sierra Club of Ohio has put together a consumer-friendly paper discussing the environmental and health threats in everyday language.

The folks at Ring of Fire Radio posted a list of toxic chemicals used in fracking operations, that in turn they got from the British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission.

So far I haven’t seen anything in the above material to cause a scenario of near instant death from lethal substances, as described in the Pungesti incident.  A blog post on texassharon.com talks about instances of “deadly flowback vapors” harming or killing people.  It outright killed an oil company worker – the coroner ruled the death was due to “hydrocarbon poisoning due to inhalation of petroleum vapors”.  Doesn’t sound like a nice way to die.  The worker in question was 21 years old, and left behind a 7-week old baby.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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