Truck Driver Accidents Are A Big Oil Patch Liability

Truck-on-sideUnfortunately in Texas, the oil patch has enjoyed much greater flexibility as it relates to how many hours its truck drivers can work and how much rest they receive prior to driving since the 1960s. That was when industry officials were convincing in their arguments that they required more flexibility than other industries as it related to drivers. However, several companies still bend and outright break these rules, and many workers or surviving members of their family have needed to contact a Houston truck accident attorney as a result.

Ever since the 1960s, there have been efforts to remove or alter these exemptions, but none have come to fruition. One notable effort in 2000 argued that safety on the roads would be improved once drivers received the amount of sleep that they needed to properly operate their vehicles. However, industry-backed lobbyists successfully convinced lawmakers to not alter the laws at that time. Even the National Transportation Safety Board went on record in 2011 that the organization “strongly opposed” these exemptions.

Disturbingly, the most prevalent cause of death for those working in the oil patch is dying from 18 wheeler accidents and other highway crashes as a third of the deaths in this industry take place on the highway. In fact, oil patch workers are nearly 10 times more likely to be killed in transportation accidents related to their work than those in other fields.

Part of the reason that hundreds of workers have died on the roads over the past 10 years is because these exemptions allow drivers in the oil patch to work more hours with less rest. Oftentimes, workers will put in long shifts of 20 or more hours and then have to get on the road. Two-week shifts of 12-hour days are also common in this field, which often result in a state of fatigue that is akin to the amount of impairment suffered by those who are intoxicated. Cargo is often illegally overloaded as well to ensure that the company saves money due to the fewer number of trips that are then necessary to move the load.

This trend increased in the mid-2000s when work shifts increased in length, workers who were inexperienced in this field were hired and aging trucks that were often in disrepair continued to be used, resulting in a fatality rate that was significantly higher than had been the case previously.

In Texas, a state that is home to a tremendous number of fracking sites, road deaths have increased at a disturbing rate ever since oil drilling and fracking experienced a boom here in the late 2000s. The Lone Star State has since taken the nation’s lead in motor vehicle deaths. The number of road accidents has also noticeably increased in areas of the state that surround oil patches.

Unfortunately, it appears that those needing to contact a personal injury attorney for these reasons will only increase in the coming years as drilling on hundreds of thousands of new oil and gas wells is expected to occur during this time period.

Another contributing factor to this expected increase is the fact that fracking will likely be used on the vast majority of these wells. This technique requires significantly more trucks to be used because of the millions of gallons of water that are necessary for this drilling method. Specifically, 1,200 trucks are needed just to get production started, while 350 more are needed every year to keep it going. Five years later, the re-fracking process requires 1,000 more trucks to be used.

It is clear that laws need to be changed, and these companies should at least be held accountable for following the rules that are in place. As long as the status quo remains in place, personal injury attorneys throughout the country will likely need to continue to provide their services to those injured on the road and their loved ones.

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BP Assessed Nearly $18 Billion in Fines for Deepwater Horizon

BP-Rig-ExplosionOn September 4, 2014, Judge Carl J. Barbier of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana ruled that BP must accept primary responsibility for the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill on April 20, 2010. Judge Barbier apportioned the blame for the spill between BP PLC, Transocean Ltd. and Halliburton Energy Service as follows:

  • BP was assigned 67 percent of the responsibility for the oil spill.
  • The judge held Transocean 30 percent accountable.
  • Halliburton escaped significant responsibility for the Deepwater Horizon accident and was apportioned 3 percent of the blame.

BP was singled out for comment by the judge, who stated that the oil company demonstrated a “conscious disregard” for safety requirements during the Deepwater Horizon operation and made “profit-driven decisions” that put workers at risk. For many of those affected by the explosion and spill, working with an experienced offshore injury lawyer can provide the support and legal guidance necessary to reach a fair settlement and to achieve some small measure of closure on this tragic event.

Fines Could Exceed $17 Billion

According to legal experts familiar with the case, BP could be liable for up to $18 billion in additional fines for its negligence in maintaining a safe workplace for its employees and for the environmental damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon explosion and consequent oil spill. BP has already been found criminally liable for manslaughter in the deaths of 11 workers and has pled guilty to federal charges that included obstruction of the Congressional investigation into the spill. Judge Barbier’s ruling was met with approval and applause by environmental groups and businesses in the Gulf Coast area.

Allegations of Gross Negligence

BP has responded to the recent ruling by indicating the company’s intent to file an appeal. Throughout the numerous court proceedings associated with the Deepwater Horizon incident, BP has consistently maintained that it was not “grossly negligent” in maintaining safety on the oil rig. Instead, company representatives have argued for a lower level of responsibility associated with mere negligence. Judge Barbier and claims administrator Patrick Juneau have also been targeted by BP on charges that they are biased against the oil corporation; BP filed a motion on September 2, 2014, to have Juneau removed from his position due to what the firm calls “partisan” bias and adversarial conflicts of interest in the performance of Juneau’s claims administration duties.

Mounting Financial Penalties

Apart from the nearly $18 billion in fines assessed by Judge Barbier, BP still faces a number of lawsuits from businesses, individuals and families negatively affected by the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill. BP is reported to have set aside $43 billion to cover the costs of all fines, penalties and clean-up expenses associated with the accident and has paid over $28 billion to date to mitigate environmental damage and to settle claims. The company is also facing future penalties for violations of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990; these could add up to more than $10 billion in additional costs assessed to BP for the Deepwater Horizon incident.

Many businesses continue to feel the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Working with an oil rig accident attorney can help smaller companies obtain the compensation necessary to maintain their business interests and operations in the Gulf Coast region. Families of those lost or injured in the accident may also benefit from the recent ruling of negligence against BP. Consulting a knowledgeable Jones Act lawyer can offer expert guidance in pursuing compensation claims and in holding negligent oil companies accountable for their failures in protecting workers against catastrophic accidents on the job. This can provide greater financial incentives for improvements in safety systems and procedures to prevent similar workplace disasters in the future.

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Halliburton Settles Gulf Coast Explosion and Oil Spill

BP-Rig-ExplosionHalliburton, the company that was responsible for cementing the Macondo oil well that was the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010, reached a $1.1 billion settlement with thousands of plaintiffs on Tuesday. The money will be placed in a trust and paid out in three installments over a two-year period, much to the approval of every oil rig accident attorney who helped this resolution come to fruition. The U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Louisiana does need to approve the settlement before it is finalized, however.

A number of studies revealed that the cement that Halliburton had mixed and applied to the well should have been sturdier as this would have likely resulted in no spill occurring. However, the organization has stated that it prepared the cement as BP had specified. Halliburton also admitted that it destroyed critical evidence related to the spill in 2013. The disaster resulted in 11 deaths and millions of gallons of oil being released into the Gulf of Mexico and reaching beaches throughout the region. It was the largest offshore oil spill in American history, causing every offshore injury lawyer and Jones Act lawyer to take notice.

This agreement removes Halliburton from liability related to further claims that have or could have been filed by those impacted by the disaster.

Although the company is paying more than $1 billion, it is denying that it played a role in the disaster.

“Halliburton denies all allegations of wrongdoing, fault, noncompliance, liability; denies that it acted improperly in any way; and denies that it caused any damage or loss arising out of, due to, resulting from, or relating in any way to, directly or indirectly to the Deepwater Horizon incident,” according to a statement released by Emily Mir, the company’s spokeswoman.

Halliburton will likely now turn its focus towards closing a competitive gap that exists between it and Schlumberger in Asia and the Middle East. In fact, one of the company’s dual headquarters is located in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; the other is in Houston. The fact that this agreement essentially puts a cap on how much money that Halliburton will need to pay out related to the Deepwater spill also allows the organization to make other plans for money that may have otherwise been needed for the settlement of further legal issues.

Now the focus for many of those involved with this disaster turns towards BP, the British oil and gas company that operated the Macondo oil well. Settlements between a number of plaintiffs and

organizations are expected to come to several times the amount that Halliburton settled for. BP has already paid $28 billion in claims related to the incident, and up to $18 billion more may be awarded in early 2015 when a Federal District Court in New Orleans determines how blame should be assigned between BP, Halliburton and Transocean, the rig owner and organization that Halliburton said neglected to properly test the cement that it provided for the oil well.

Although BP has acknowledged responsibility for the spill, the organization has long stated that other companies should share that responsibility. However, Halliburton has little to worry about from a financial perspective related to next year’s decision, thanks to the settlement that it agreed to on Tuesday.

Geoff Morrell, a senior vice president at BP, released this statement following the announcement of Halliburton’s agreement: “This settlement marks the very first time — despite three years of official investigations and litigation implicating the company — that Halliburton has acknowledged that it played a role in the accident.” However, this statement prompted the response from Halliburton denying that it played a role in the spill.

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More Oversight Needed for Texas Oil Train Shipments

black-tankerDespite a number of serious oil train accidents over the last few years, most of the crude oil transported on Texas railways receives little or no oversight by regulatory agencies. The development of the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota and Canada has led to increased demand for transportation from oil fields to refineries across the U.S. Unfortunately, aging rail infrastructure and inadequate attention to safety issues have resulted in derailments, explosions and tragic consequences for railroad workers and others in the path of these oil trains. The Federal Employers Liability Act, better known as FELA, allows railway employees to obtain compensation for injuries incurred in the line of duty. FELA railroad injury accident lawyers specialize in providing expert representation for injured workers to ensure a fair settlement for their losses.

A Growing Problem

According to figures released by the Association of American Railroads, oil shipments have more than quadrupled since 2008. This trend is expected to continue as the Bakken fields continue to produce crude oil in large quantities for shipment to refineries located around the country. While the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) does conduct spot inspections to ensure that oil tank cars are properly labeled and that required emergency plans are in place, these measures can only go so far in protecting public safety and preventing accidents. The DoT issued a warning to the railroad industry in May 2014, urging these companies to adopt new safety standards and to take greater precautions when transporting oil by rail.

State Notifications Required

Along with the urgent safety warning issued by the DoT, an emergency order was also issued that requires railroad officials to notify safety officials in each state before a train loaded with over a million barrels of Bakken crude oil enters that state’s borders. In Texas, the Department of Public Safety is responsible for receiving these notifications and disseminating the information to county officials to allow advance preparation for any emergencies that may arise.

More Must Be Done

While these notifications are a step in the right direction, they still do not address the bulk of the problem. State officials have refused to release data on the number of oil trains reported under the emergency order or on any safety measures that may have been put into place as a result of these federally mandated notifications. Additionally, trains that do not meet the criteria for notification procedures can still derail and cause public safety hazards and loss of life. In 2014, eight railroad oil spills have already taken place in the state of Texas. While these accidents were relatively small and no injuries have been reported, the risks involved in rail transport of oil across Texas remain unacceptably high. Instituting stricter safety standards and requiring additional upgrades to infrastructure can reduce the risk of serious accidents.

Motivating railroads and oil companies to ante up for improved safety equipment, oil tank car upgrades and increased oversight for their rail shipments has proven to be a difficult task. The DoT is currently evaluating a proposal that would require a number of changes in the oil train industry:

  • Enhanced training for rail workers
  • Tougher standards for tank car construction
  • Restrictions on oil train speeds
  • Required testing of oil composition prior to transport

Railway workers who have been injured on the job can take the first step toward obtaining compensation for their losses by contacting a railroad injury attorney. A qualified railroad worker injury lawyer can help these victims obtain a fair settlement for their medical bills, lost wages and pain and suffering and can help them to hold negligent railroad companies accountable for their failure to implement much-needed safety features on behalf of their employees and the public at large.

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Pacific Gas & Electric Co. Fined $1.4 Billion For Pipeline Blast

firetrucks-150x146On September 9, 2010, a deadly gas pipeline explosion rocked Bruno, a sleepy San Francisco suburb. The explosion resulted in the loss of more than three dozen homes and is widely considered California’s deadliest utility accident in decades. In the wake of the explosion, some victims chose to retain an industrial accident attorney to protect their rights and seek compensation for their losses. After all, the pipeline explosion resulted in the deaths of eight people. It also drew increased attention to the state of gas pipelines across the nation.

Naturally, wrongful death suits were not the only consequence that the responsible utility company, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), faced. In an effort to protect citizens and promote safer pipelines, the State of California also levied hefty fines against PG&E. The judge who constructed the order for PG&E to pay up noted that not only had the utility company seriously endangered the lives of thousands of residents but had also neglected local, state and federal safety regulations governing gas pipelines.

Unfortunately, problems with pipelines are likely more common across the U.S. than utility companies would like to admit. This is a large part of the rationale for the hefty fine levied against PG&E, which equaled a total of $1.4 billion. The penalty was calculated by weighing the damage caused by the explosion with an estimated 3,800 violations of local, state and federal safety rules and regulations governing the operation of gas transmission systems.

Where Do Penalty Monies Go?

Many who watched the horrific pipeline explosion on their TVs or from their homes in San Bruno find themselves wondering exactly what will happen with all of the money that PG&E has been ordered to pay as a penalty. In his ruling, Judge Timothy J. Sullivan directed how the penalty monies should be divided and what the utility giant should do as it proceeds.

$950 million of the penalty is to be paid directly to the State of California. This raised objections from residents of San Bruno and survivors of the accident, who believe that the majority of the penalty should be dedicated to improving pipeline safety.

$635 million of the penalty is to be used on pipeline modernization projects designed to prevent disasters such as the San Bruno explosion from happening again. PG&E is not allowed to pass any of these costs along to customers. Instead, the utility company must use its own funds to make improvements that industry experts and safety advocates argue should have been made years ago.

$400 million of the penalty must be spent on wider-reaching pipeline improvement designed to increase the security of the entire San Francisco area gas delivery system.

$50 million of the penalty is to be dedicated to pipeline security improvements. Making such improvements is believed to be a key step in preventing further accidents and ensuring that PG&E follows all applicable local, state and federal regulations.

Do the PG&E Penalties Go Far Enough?

While $1.4 billion sounds like a lot of money to most people, accident survivors and officials from the City of San Bruno argue that the penalty simply is not enough to punish PG&E for its negligence. They believe that the utility company should shoulder a much larger burden when it comes to ensuring the safety of its customers and the community.

Of course, individual accident victims do not stand to receive any of the penalty monies. However, they are able to retain a personal injury attorney to represent them in an action against PG&E. Along with government penalties and censures, such actions are considered absolutely vital in holding PG&E accountable for its mismanagement of gas pipelines and for the deaths that resulted from the San Bruno explosion.

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