Bodies of 5 Victims Recovered Following Oklahoma Well Explosion

Reuters, January 25, 2018

The bodies of five workers who died in a fiery explosion at an oil and gas well site outside of Quinton, Oklahoma were recovered on Tuesday afternoon in a building next to the drilling rig, Pittsburg County Sheriff Chris Morris said. The accident, which followed several fatal mishaps in recent months at Oklahoma oil and gas operations, is the deadliest U.S. drilling mishap since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon offshore rig explosion that claimed 11 lives. The bodies were transferred to the state medical examiner in Oklahoma City, for identification, Morris said. The building was a control operation near the rig. The five included three workers from Oklahoma and one each from Texas and Colorado.

The workers had been missing and presumed dead since Monday, when a blast ripped through a Red Mountain Energy drill site, sparking a huge blaze fed by natural gas from the well. The Oklahoma City-based energy producer, which shares management with natural gas marketing and investment firm Clearwater Enterprises, did not respond to requests for comment. Local and company officials said the cause of the explosion has not been determined. The company had begun drilling the well in December.

Federal agencies including the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and U.S. Chemical Safety Board, and the Oklahoma Corporation Commission have begun investigations.

Three of Houston-based drilling contractor Patterson-UTI Energy’s employees were among those killed. Officials have not said what company employed the other two workers. Patterson-UTI did not respond to a request for comment.

There were 22 workers at the site, which is about 146 miles (235 km) from Oklahoma City, involved in the drilling when the explosion occurred. Officials said 16 got away safely while one was treated for burns and released. The fire was extinguished late Monday. Investigators have been combing the scene for clues to what caused the blast, said Kevin Enloe, director of the Pittsburg County Emergency Management Department.

The victims were identified as Josh Ray, 35, from Fort Worth, Texas; Cody Risk, 26, of Wellington, Colorado; Parker Waldridge, 60, of Crescent, Oklahoma; Roger Cunningham, 55, of Seminole, Oklahoma; and Matt Smith, 29, of McAlester, Oklahoma.

The explosion is the latest in a series of fatal accidents at Oklahoma oil and gas fields. A 40-year-old Oklahoma man was killed in a backhoe accident this month at an oilfield near Ninnekah, another worker was killed last month when equipment collapsed at a site near Preston, and a 36-year-old man was killed in November when a fitting failed during fracking at a well near Watonga, according to media reports. Accidents during oil and gas drilling claim about 100 lives a year in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which reported that 1,189 workers were killed in the 11 years ended 2013, a period of intensive drilling.

(Reporting by Bryan Sims; Additional reporting by Liz Hampton; Editing by Susan Thomas and James Dalgleish)

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