Oil rig emitting gasses into the air

Oil Industry

The 5 Most Dangerous Gases in the Oil Industry

Posted by: Kemmy Law Firm

Toxic gases are common in the oil industry, with some causing death in minutes if symptoms aren’t recognized. Even if you survive, you could suffer from adverse health effects for the rest of your life.

If you work around these substances in the oil and gas industry, it’s up to your employer and regulatory agencies to identify risks and ensure employees are safe. Here, we discuss the prevalence of toxic gas exposure and the most dangerous gases you may encounter in the oil industry.

1. Hydrogen Sulfide

Hydrogen sulfide gas is released during oil and gas production. Described as a colorless gas that smells like rotten eggs, hydrogen sulfide gas is highly toxic and has claimed 46 lives between 2011 and 2017. When this deadly gas exceeds 100 ppm, it’s considered “sour gas” and could kill someone in minutes.

Since hydrogen sulfide is heavier than air, it tends to build up in low-lying areas. So, employees working in confined spaces, such as manholes and sewers, face an increased risk of exposure. It’s vital that you pay attention to the signs of sulfide gas because you begin to stop smelling it over time, which could make you unaware of exposure.

You might be exposed to sulfide gas if you experience one or more of these symptoms:

  • Irritated eyes
  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Irritability
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia

2. Petroleum Gases

In addition to hydrogen sulfide gas, other gases, and vapors like methane, butane, and benzene are often released in oil and gas extraction. These gases and vapors, also called “volatile organic compounds,” can cause adverse health effects to workers when exposed.

Workers might experience abnormal heart rhythms and damage to the lungs, eyes, and nervous system. Although these gases may take a toll on a worker’s health over time, brief exposure could cause respiratory depression and hypoxia (low oxygen levels in your body).

3. Flammable Gases

Many toxic gases, like hydrogen sulfide and benzene, are also highly flammable and pose a significant risk for explosions and fires. One of the ways combustible gases can ignite is through “hot work,” which includes any work that involves burning, welding, cutting, brazing, or grinding.

Hot work is often performed on tankers and barrels that already contain hazardous hydrocarbons, and if any contents leak from these materials, one spark could ignite a devastating explosion.

If employees are negligent and fail to properly operate the tools necessary to complete their jobs, they could be responsible for any damages they cause. Likewise, employers must ensure that all workers are adequately trained in fire safety and OSHA regulations are followed to prevent on-the-job injuries.

4. Mercury Vapor

Mercury is a substance within the earth’s crust that naturally contaminates oil and gas. This odorless could produce the following symptoms in less than eight hours:

  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Metallic taste
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Vision changes

Mercury could initially appear as tiny droplets that accumulate on equipment used during extraction. After a while at room temperature, these droplets turn into a colorless vapor that affects oil field workers.

5. Diesel Exhaust

Due to the various vehicles and equipment used in the oil industry, workers are exposed to a large amount of diesel fumes. Overexposure to diesel exhaust could cause the following adverse health effects:

  • Respiratory illness
  • Eye and nose irritation
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Lung cancer

There are currently no established standards for diesel exhaust despite the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifying it as a human carcinogen.

A Lack of Oversight Has Increased Toxic Gas Deaths

The Railroad Commission of Texas is the main governing body that regulates the oil and gas industry. Despite what their name suggests, they no longer maintain railroads. The RRC has been scrutinized lately for its inability to properly assess toxic gasses in oil fields and enforce laws to correct the problem. This is mainly because the RRC relies heavily on self-reporting, and even though all oil fields must report incidents immediately, many do not.

Reports indicate that out of the 19,000 wells in RRC District 8—which includes the Permian Basin—over 10,000 oil wells did not report the presence of toxic gases. Further, District 8 has over 1,000 oil fields with hydrogen gas concentrations exceeding 100 parts per million. The RRC requires every oil field with poisonous gas concentrations over 100 ppm to be reported immediately.

Exposed to Poisonous Gas? Call Us Today

Poisonous gases are one of many hazards you may face on an oilfield. Understanding the various symptoms associated with each toxic gas and seeking immediate treatment if you’re exposed is vital. If your employer causes workers to be overexposed to toxic gases, they could be liable for your damages. The Kemmy Law Firm helps injured workers in West Texas recover what they lost and will hold all at-fault parties accountable for their actions. Contact us today at 210-750-1019 for a free consultation.

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When you work with us at Kemmy Law Firm, you are working with a family run firm with more than 50 years of combined experience. We are dedicated and successful trial attorneys practicing in West TX, Hobbs, NM, Midland-Odessa, and across the Permian Basin. Our team handles everything from catastrophic injury claims to complex business matters. We are here to fight for you. We dedicate our time and attention to your case and use every resource available to maximize your claim and obtain the best possible outcome.