A recent ruling by a Colorado judge could have implications for the nation’s oil and gas industry.

The Denver Post reported in late July that Administrative Law Judge Peter Cannici ruled that the death of a Weld County (Colorado) oil and gas worker was caused by exposure to hydrocarbons. The ruling comes as federal health officials take a closer look at “tank gauging,” or measuring oil levels after opening a tank hatch — commonly known as a thief hatch.

In the Weld County case, the Post reported, Jim Freemyer, a 59-year-old truck driver, died after he inhaled a mix of deadly hydrocarbon chemicals. He was among nine oil field workers who died in the past five years while working at crude oil production tanks and measuring the level of oil or other byproducts in tanks.

Cannici ruled that Freemyer’s widow is owed full workers’ compensation benefits. Connie Freemyer will receive nearly $530 per week until she dies. She will also get $7,000 to defray the cost of her husband’s funeral.

Lenard Garrett, general manager, LoneStar USA Safety & Training in Midland (Texas) said the trend he has observed throughout the Permian Basin is that most operators are turning to electronic gauging so employees don’t have to climb the stairs to the storage tank and open the thief hatch.

He said the employee’s health and safety is one reason. Electronic gauging prevents them from being hit in the face with a sudden rush of potentially fatal amounts of hydrocarbons, particularly hydrogen sulfide, when they open the hatch.

A second reason is that electronic gauging can more accurately detail what and how much is in the storage tank, Garrett said.

“They can get it down to the gallon,” he said.

He said there still are some storage tanks around the Permian Basin that aren’t electronically gauged. For the employees who have to manually gauge those tanks, operators are installing air tanks and breathing masks at the foot of the stairs.

Source: www.mrt.com  Midland (TX) Reporter-Telegram