Health
Government of British Columbia | 27 March 2015

British Columbia Releases Oil and Gas Human Health Study

The Canadian province of British Columbia publicly released the Northeast Oil and Gas Human Health Risk Assessment Study on 26 March, announced Health Minister Terry Lake.

“Our government is committed to ensuring that the health of British Columbians is protected as we explore opportunities for economic and job growth throughout the province,” Lake said. “That is why we undertook this comprehensive study, and I am pleased to release the full report today. After careful review and analysis, the study found that the risk to human health from emissions from oil and gas activities in the Northeast remains low.”

Phase 2 of the risk assessment began in November 2012 and included a scientific literature review, a screening level risk assessment, a detailed human health risk assessment, a review of the current regulatory framework, and recommendations. Its goals were to assess the health risks associated with oil and gas activity in northeastern British Columbia and, where appropriate, to provide recommendations to fill knowledge gaps and manage risks. The Phase 2 report was presented to government in November 2014.

The human health risk assessment found there is a low probability of adverse health effects from exposures to contaminants related to current oil and gas activities. It was compiled following the standards and scientific processes recognized by Health Canada, the World Health Organization, and the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Rigzone | 21 January 2015

Unique Maritime Group Sets Up Hyperbaric Reception Facility in UAE

Unique Maritime Group (UMG) reported that it has set up the first hyperbaric reception facility (HRF) in the Middle East, thus raising the safety level for all divers currently operating in this area to a new level.

The purpose-built system by Unique Hydra, a division of UMG, will be installed at UMG’s facility in the Hamriyah Free Zone, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. Major oil companies and dive operators with a view to using the system have already shown considerable interest, and the first contract announcement by UMG is expected before the end of the month.

Harry Gandhi, chief executive officer of Unique Maritime Group, said, “Bringing one of our state-of-the-art Hydra HRF systems to this region is testimony to our commitment for safety, diver care, and providing first-class services to the operators in this area. I am very proud that we are the first company to offer this potentially lifesaving facility and congratulate Ian and the team on the job they have done in setting this up in UAE.”

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection | 15 January 2015

Study Shows Little Potential for Radiation Exposure From Oil and Gas Development

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced the results of a study that analyzed the naturally occurring levels of radioactivity associated with oil and natural gas development in Pennsylvania. While the study outlines recommendations for further study, it concluded there is little potential for harm to workers or the public from radiation exposure because of oil and gas development.

“The study report is the culmination of a multi-year effort and represents what we believe to be the most comprehensive radiological study of the oil and gas industry ever conducted,” Vince Brisini, DEP deputy secretary for waste, air, radiation, and remediation, said. “While the recommendations for future actions contained in the report call for additional studies and efforts, we now have data to inform the management of natural gas resources and resultant wastes for environmental and health protection.”

In January 2013, at the direction of Gov. Tom Corbett, DEP began studying radioactivity levels in flowback waters, treatment solids, and drill cuttings, as well as transportation, storage, and disposal of drilling wastes. This included a study of radon levels in natural gas to ensure that public health and the environment continue to be protected.

National Center for Biotechnology Information | 15 January 2015

Technological Diseases: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Mouse Shoulder, Cervical Pain Syndrome

Technological diseases are diseases of the modern era. Some are caused by occupational exposures, and are marked with direct professional relation, or are the action of harmful effects in the workplace.

Because of the increasing incidence of these diseases on specific workplaces, which may be caused by one or more causal factors present in the workplace today, these diseases are considered as professional diseases. Severity of technological disease usually responds to the level and duration of exposure and usually occurs after many years of exposure to harmful factor.

Technological diseases occur because of excessive work at the computer or excessive use of keyboards and computer mice, especially the nonergonomic ones. This paper deals with the diseases of the neck, shoulder, elbow, and wrist (cervical radiculopathy, mouse shoulder, and carpal tunnel syndrome), as is currently the most common diseases of technology. These three diseases can be caused by long-term load and physical effort and are tied to specific occupations, such as occupations associated with prolonged sitting, working at the computer, and work related to the fixed telephone communication, as well as certain types of sports.

Reuters | 17 December 2014

New York Bans Hydraulic Fracturing After Health Report

New York state will ban hydraulic fracturing after a long-awaited report concluded that the oil and gas extraction method poses health risks, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration said on 17 December.

New York Environmental Commissioner Joseph Martens said at a cabinet meeting that he will issue an order early next year banning hydraulic fracturing, which has been under a moratorium since 2008. Once that happens, New York will join Vermont as the only states to completely prohibit the practice.

The decision ends what has been a fierce debate in New York over the benefits and pitfalls of hydraulic fracturing, a process that involves pumping water, sand, and chemicals into a well to extract oil or gas. Many in the state saw gas drilling as a key economic resource while others argued it was too dangerous.

The state’s health commissioner, Howard Zucker, said there is not enough scientific information to conclude that hydraulic fracturing is safe.

“The potential risks are too great, in fact not even fully known, and relying on the limited data presently available would be negligent on my part,” Zucker said.

Oil Online | 16 October 2014

Oil & Gas UK Publishes Ebola Guidelines

Oil & Gas UK has published guidelines for mitigating the Ebola risk. Alix Thom, employment and skills issues manager at Oil & Gas UK, said, “While we believe the overall risk to the UK is low, Oil & Gas UK is addressing concerns about the Ebola virus by issuing guidance to our members on how to respond to the potential risk to the health and safety of our workers in the UK offshore oil and gas industry.”

Key Recommendations

  • Ensure personnel receive appropriate advice on avoiding Ebola infection before deployment to Ebola-affected countries.
  • Ensure that personnel returning from deployment to Ebola-affected countries are reminded to seek medical attention if they are unwell, or become unwell within 21 days of return, and that personnel should tell the doctor they have recently been to an Ebola-affected country.
  • Maintain a list of personnel returning from deployment to Ebola-affected countries to assist in government screening procedures.
  • Remind personnel not to proceed offshore if feeling unwell, unless they have sought medical advice first, and that personnel should tell the doctor if they have recently been to an Ebola-affected country.
  • Delay any intended visit to a UK offshore installation for a worker who has been (for work or personal reasons) to an Ebola-affected country until a period of 21 days has passed since their return.
  • Seek assurance from their medical adviser/contractors (where relevant) that they aware of Public Health England and Health Protection Scotland advice on clinical assessment of suspected Ebola cases.

Houston Business Journal | 15 October 2014

Exxon Cuts Travel to West Africa Amid Ebola Fears

ExxonMobil has restricted nonessential travel to Liberia and Nigeria because of the Ebola virus. Non-Liberian employees were rotated out of that country over the summer and continue to work in other locations.

“We are taking appropriate health and safety precautions with our national staff in Liberia, including providing the capability to work from home,” said Richard Keil, an Exxon spokesman.

Rex Tillerson, CEO of Irving, Texas-based Exxon, has said the spread of Ebola in Africa could affect the company’s ability to drill the first offshore well in Liberia.

“Travel restrictions into and within the country have severely limited our ability to progress plans for drilling,” Keil said. “We remain committed to exploring Block 13 when conditions in Liberia improve.”

Reuters | 2 October 2014

Exxon CEO Says Company Has Seen Some Disruption From Ebola Outbreak

ExxonMobil has seen some of its oil and gas activities in west Africa disrupted by the ebola outbreak, including plans to drill offshore Liberia, the company’s chief executive officer said on Thursday.

Exxon, the world’s largest publicly traded oil company, which has operations in Nigeria and Liberia, is prohibiting some employees from traveling to the countries directly affected by the disease and is taking precautionary measures related to workers’ families, executive said.

The virus has killed at least 3,338 people in west Africa in the worst such outbreak on record. Earlier this week, the first person was diagnosed with ebola in the United States, in Dallas.

“We had some drilling plans for some blocks offshore west Africa in Liberia,” CEO Rex Tillerson told a news conference to announce USD 18 million in grants to three Houston hospitals.

“We are having to look at when it would be prudent to resume operations there because you do have to have shore-based support.”

OSHA | 12 September 2014

OSHA Announces New Reporting Requirements for Serious Injuries and Fatalities

The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)  on 11 September announced a final rule requiring employers to notify OSHA when an employee is killed on the job or suffers a work-related hospitalization, amputation, or loss of an eye. The rule, which also updates the list of employers partially exempt from OSHA record-keeping requirements, will go into effect on 1 January 2015 for workplaces under federal OSHA jurisdiction.

The announcement follows preliminary results from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2013 National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries.

“Today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 4,405 workers were killed on the job in 2013. We can and must do more to keep America’s workers safe and healthy,” said US Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. “Workplace injuries and fatalities are absolutely preventable, and these new requirements will help OSHA focus its resources and hold employers accountable for preventing them.”

Under the revised rule, employers will be required to notify OSHA of work-related fatalities within 8 hours and work-related in-patient hospitalizations, amputations, or losses of an eye within 24 hours. Previously, OSHA’s regulations required an employer to report only work-related fatalities and in-patient hospitalizations of three or more employees. Reporting single hospitalizations, amputations, or loss of an eye was not required under the previous rule.

Sensear | 25 August 2014

Hearing Protection Ratings Explained

Those who are well informed about on-the-job noise exposure and the dangers therein are typically familiar with the term “hearing protection ratings.” However, there are still many employers and employees who have not been adequately informed about hearing protection ratings and noise reduction ratings. Individuals who are not familiar with the aforementioned terms may benefit from reading this brief explanation. By remaining informed about occupational noise exposure and related concepts such as hearing protection ratings and noise reduction ratings, employers and employees alike can intentionally pursue safety without reducing work efficiency.

What Are Hearing Protection Ratings?

Hearing protection ratings are often referred to as noise reduction ratings. Essentially, a noise reduction rating is a guideline or standard that acts as an absolute reference concerning the amount of predicted hearing protection a certain piece of equipment will supply at any given time in an overly noisy work atmosphere. Most hearing devices are designed to decrease the amount of noise exposure with the intention of creating a safer working environment for employees.

Noise reduction ratings are measured in decibels (a unit of measurement used to classify how powerful or dense a certain sound is); for instance, a certain device may be screened to discern how great a potential it may hold for reducing decibels. This screening is often performed during experiments within scientific laboratories.

E&P Magazine | 19 August 2014

Managing Worker Exposure to Silica-Based Products in Sequences of Shale Reservoir Stimulation Operations

Employing an occupational and safety management system to shale gas reservoir stimulation operations assures that worker health and safety are considered at each step in the hydraulic fracturing life cycle. Management systems also support the ongoing reassessment that is required as new information is developed about the hazards of new and existing proppants and other chemical hazards, resulting in sustainable health and safety performance.

Exposure to crystalline silica particles of respirable size has been identified as an occupational health hazard associated with hydraulic fracturing operations. When inhaled, respirable-sized particles can enter the gas-exchange regions of the lung, according to a June 2012 hazard alert from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) that was titled “Worker Exposure to Silica During Hydraulic Fracturing.” Exposures are typically due to the mechanical handling of large volumes of dry crystalline silica. Future innovations, including the use of nano-enabled proppants and lubricants, may introduce occupational health hazards that have not yet been fully characterized.

Uncertainties exist about exposure risks and the appropriate controls needed to mitigate the potential risks to worker health. These factors prompt the adoption of a robust management system to ensure that worker health and safety are considered at each step in the development, use, and ultimate disposal of silica and other proppant materials.

Journal of Petroleum Technology | 15 August 2014

Group To Examine Potential Health Effects From Producing Unconventional Resources

Unconventional resources offer many substantial benefits, yet the rapid increase in production of these resources using hydraulic fracturing has generated scrutiny by some policymakers and advocates who cite health concerns. The Exploration and Production Health Issues Group was recently formed to provide research, scientific analysis, and guidance on health issues regarding unconventional-resource production (URP). The group is particularly focused on community health concerns, including those associated with the compositions of hydraulic-fracturing fluid and flowback, effects on aquifers, air emissions, and psychosocial stress related to operations.

Chemical Disclosure

Opinion polls have found that community residents are most concerned about the possibility of drinking-water contamination from hydraulic fracturing. The idea that fracturing fluids of unknown composition are pumped underground through groundwater is the cause of that concern. A key issue for the industry to address is communicating the full nature of this risk while maintaining the confidentiality of proprietary chemicals used. The composition of fracturing fluids is the intellectual property of companies that develop the wellsite. The skill required to identify the right fluid composition for particular fracturing operations is what keeps those companies in business. But the need to protect some portion of fluid compositions as confidential business information (CBI) has been exploited by some opposed to URP to spread fear about unknown toxic chemicals and the harm they may cause.

To address this challenge, the Groundwater Protection Council, an organization of state regulators, created FracFocus. FracFocus is a Web-based chemical disclosure registry where the nonconfidential chemicals used in fracturing for a particular wellsite are posted for public viewing. In many states, the use of FracFocus to disclose nonconfidential chemicals is mandatory. Some segments of the URP industry believe that additional steps must be taken to develop criteria to assess the suitability of a chemical for use in URP from the perspective of health, safety, and environmental effects, and they have been working to develop criteria and a user-friendly tool to implement those criteria in URP operations. While some chemicals will continue to be identified as CBI under existing regulations and policy, operators and service companies would apply the established criteria of suitability for hydraulic fracturing. The objective is to encourage continued development of new and improved fracturing fluids while maintaining the intellectual–property protections of the companies that develop them and enhancing public confidence that protection of health and the environment is integrated into the selection of chemicals.

The balance between the legitimate need to keep certain information confidential and the processes by which compositional information is provided to experts on a need-to-know basis should be communicated better to the public to help build and maintain trust.