Pennsylvania workers’ compensation: Marcellus Shale fracking injuries

Fracking in the Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale is dangerous.

Many are grateful for the jobs brought to Pennsylvania in the hydraulic fracturing - or fracking - mining industry. But when an employee is injured while working in the fracking process in the Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale fields, after getting medical care, he or she should look immediately into filing a workers' comp claim and investigate potential third-party lawsuits.

The Marcellus Shale is a huge area of underground porous rock formations containing minuscule pockets of gas and oil. Drilling technologies have evolved making extraction of these minerals easier and profitable, and fracking has exploded in U.S. shale fields in the Northeast, Texas, North Dakota and elsewhere.

But as with other types of industry, fracking can be dangerous for workers. To extract oil and gas from shale, a liquid mixture of water, chemicals and sand is injected into wells at high pressure to fracture the shale, releasing oil and gas from tiny spaces. The process involves heavy equipment, chemical exposure, high pressure and heat, and other potentially dangerous aspects.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA, has a Hazard Alert on its website that describes the risk of worker exposure to silica dust during fracking. During the process, minute specks of crystalline silica are released into the air during the movement of large amounts of quartz sand.

OSHA describes air sampling at fracking sites by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health or NIOSH. Testing revealed disturbing air quality findings with silica levels above officially recommended and permissible exposure limits, known as RELs and PELs.

When a fracking worker breaths silica into his or her lungs, the risk increases of developing silicosis, a lung condition that suppresses breathing and oxygen intake. In the most severe cases, silicosis can be fatal. Other health risks of silica inhalation include lung cancer, tuberculosis, autoimmune disorders, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD, and more.

Employers at fracking sites have the legal duty to keep airborne silica levels at recommended levels by using safe mining practices and to take further safety precautions like providing safety equipment and keeping worker exposure time to silica brief, if necessary. Employers must also provide worker training and education about silica. OSHA recommends that fracking employers "medically monitor" workers exposed to certain silica levels.

OSHA reports that fracking workers may be exposed to other work hazards such as:

  • Activity in "confined spaces"
  • Danger from moving objects like motor vehicles or falling debris
  • Fires and explosions
  • Accidental release of highly pressurized materials
  • Falls
  • Insufficient lighting
  • And more

Anyone injured or who contracts an occupational disease in Pennsylvania fracking fields should speak with a knowledgeable Pennsylvania lawyer about filing a workers' compensation claim, as well as exploring other potential legal remedies.

The survivors of a worker who died in a fracking-related accident or from a fracking-related illness should seek legal advice about workers' comp and a possible wrongful death suit, depending on the circumstances.

While workers' comp is normally the only legal remedy against an employer, there may be other legally responsible parties. For example, a worker driving on official business may have been in a motor vehicle accident with a negligent driver; the manufacturer or seller of industrial equipment may have provided a defectively designed or made tool or machine; an equipment repairer or maintenance provider may have provided substandard service; and more.

In these situations, a lawsuit might be recommended in addition to the workers' compensation claim. Consult a Pennsylvania lawyer like one from Laputka, Bayless, Ecker & Cohn, PC, in Hazleton about your legal options.

Keywords: Pennsylvania, workers' compensation, Marcellus Shale, fracking, injury, hydraulic fracturing, mining, third-party lawsuit, gas, oil, drilling, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, Hazard Alert, silica, sand, National Institute for Occupational Safety, NIOSH, air quality, silicosis, safety