A recent tragic case in Major County revealed that an oilfield worker died while working on a swab rig. The Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office and the OSHA Oklahoma City Office are investigating. The accident occurred right before 9:00am, which is when the Sheriff’s Office in Major County received a call for help. According to a news release, an operator was found deceased after being “pulled into a cable winch drum.”
The death was reported by KOCO 5 News. The deceased worker was employed by Orco Service LLC. The owner of the well, Stride Energy LLC suspended operations after the fatal accident.
A quick primer on swabbing an oil or gas well
If you work in oil and gas – especially if you’re in the upstream portion of the process – then you know that wells need fluid to open them up. These fluids can block a well, stopping the flow of product. To get it moving again, you have to swab it. Basically, once you pull the liquid out, the pressure increases and the well will start to flow, kind the way that removing air from a syringe allows the medication to flow.
It is common practice for the swabbing rig to remove about six barrels of fluid out of an oil well at a time – called a “run.” Some wells just require one run. Some wells may need multiple runs. All wells, at some point or another, will end up needing to be swabbed.
What is a swabbing rig?
Swabbing rigs remove fluids from the production zones. Tiger General, the equipment manufacturer, explains them this way:
Swabbing rigs normally have a winch with a cable and a foldable mast with a pulley on top. First, the rig operator must back the machine as close to the well as he possibly can. Next, the operator raises the mast and moves it until it is aligned with the center of the well. Next, the operator lowers the cable in and out of the well via the “winch drum”. Here, the operator must be able to maintain control of the machine while taking into account the well’s sound and depth.
What are the dangers associated with swabbing?
A typical wellhead operates at 10,000 psi (pressure per square inch) – about five tons. By comparison, a fire hose has a psi of about 300, pressure washers are usually between 2,000 and 2,800 psi, and the deepest part of the ocean – the bottom of the Mariana Trench – is around 16,000 psi. if anything goes wrong during the swabbing process that would allow the product to move at even a fraction of the speed, the well and everyone around it can suffer.
Risks involved with rig swabbing can include:
- Explosions and blowouts
- Snapped cables
- Falls into open wells
- Toxic inhalation
- Crushing accidents
- Vehicle collisions (on or offsite)
Safety precautions on rig sites
According to Rig Worker, some of the factors that affect swabbing and surging and pressure include:
- Pulling speed of pipe
- Mud properties
- Hole geometry
Tiger General provides the following industry recommendations for swabbing rigs:
For 10,000 PSI wellhead connections, first, make sure to install a 4-way manifold with two side ball valves on top of the crown tubing valve. There should be a choke on one side. Both should be plumbed or piped to flow line or tank. Some wells will need Unrestricted flow to the tank. There will be times the operator will need to balance each side of the 4-way manifold.
There are numerous other steps that skilled workers with the proper tools and equipment can use.
They note that swabbing is indeed dangerous work, but doesn’t have to be when the right safety precautions and procedures are in place.
Your rights if a swabbing accident occurs
If a fatal swabbing accident occurs, then the family of the decedent has the right to file for workers’ compensation benefits if the worker was an employee. The family can file a wrongful death claim if the worker was an independent contractor, or if the accident was due to a defective machine or tool. Independent contractors who survive can file a personal injury claim against the owner of the rig, the makers of any defective products, and all other responsible parties.
These claims work as follows:
- Workers’ compensation. Employees who file a workers’ compensation claim can seek payment of all their medical bills, temporary wage loss benefits while they are unable to work, and permanent disability benefits if they have a partial or full permanent disability. The family of a deceased worker can also file for workers’ compensation death benefits. The employee or the family of a deceased worker does not need to show fault in a worker’s compensation claim.
- A personal injury claim. This type of claim is normally brought against the owners of the oilfield on the basis that the owners did not comply with industry-wide safety protocols and any governmental regulations. Victims can demand compensation for their pain and suffering, medical expenses, lost income, scarring and disfigurement, and other damages – for the rest of their lives if necessary. Injuries may include head injuries, spinal cord injuries, burns, and orthopedic injuries.
- A wrongful death claim. The beneficiaries generally include the spouse, children, or parents – depending on the terms of the decedent’s will or the intestate laws of Oklahoma. Damages include the burial costs, any medical expenses, the pain and suffering of your loved one, the spouse’s grief and loss of consortium, the loss of companionship and grief of any children or parents, and the financial losses of the survivors due to the loved one’s premature death.
Our seasoned Oklahoma City oilfield injury attorneys file the correct claims in the correct courts against the responsible defendants.
At Cunningham & Mears, our oilfield accident lawyers have the skills, experience, and resources to help you obtain justice. We regularly work with oilfield professionals who understand the equipment, machinery, and tools that should have been used for the type of work involved – including swab rig work. We also understand what safety measures should have been taken to protect you or your loved one. To discuss your rights after a swab rig accident, contact us or call 405-232-1212 today for a free initial consultation.
Ryan Y. Cunningham is a founding partner of Cunningham & Mears. Mr. Cunningham devotes his practice to protecting the rights of injured Oklahoma residents. In addition to assisting injured clients, Mr. Cunningham endeavors to improve personal injury representation by speaking on issues related to personal injury law to attorneys in continuing legal education courses and to law students. Learn More