Blast at Wyo. oil production site kills 3 workers

Aug 30 2011 - 1:02pm

CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- All three workers killed in an oilfield explosion in eastern Wyoming were men, and all three died at the scene of the latest deadly workplace mishap in the state, authorities said Tuesday.

The blast occurred Monday at an oil production site on a private ranch, about 50 miles northeast of Casper.

It came as the men worked on a fuel line supplying a heater treatment facility that separates oil from water as the materials are pumped from the ground, said Dennis Neill, spokesman for Samson Resources Co. in Tulsa, Okla.

The blast sparked a 10-acre fire before it was brought under control.

The names of the men killed have not yet been released.

Wyoming, a top energy-producing state, for years has ranked among the highest states in terms of per capita workplace fatalities.

Last summer, Wyoming lost its title to Montana as the deadliest state in the nation for workers, largely due to a slowdown in Wyoming's gas industry.

In July, a newly built gas pipeline exploded in northeastern Wyoming. No one was hurt, but the blast could be heard 10 miles away and left a 50-foot-long trench in the ground.

The Wyoming Department of Workforce Services reported last week that the number of occupational fatalities in the state rose to 34 last year -- an increase of nearly 79 percent from the prior year. Of those 34 deaths, 10 were in the natural resources and mining sector.

A bill that would have increased employer penalties for workplace safety violations was rejected early last year in the Wyoming State Senate. Then-Gov. Dave Freudenthal had urged passage of the bill, which was supported by industry groups.

The workers in Monday's blast were employed by a contractor that Samson had hired to bring an oil well back into production at the site, Neill said. The well wasn't involved in the explosion or the fire on the Hornbuckle Ranch.

J.D. Danni, manager of the Wyoming Occupational Safety & Health Administration program, said Tuesday that Samson hasn't received any citations from the state in recent years.

Converse County Sheriff Clint Becker said Tuesday he didn't believe there were any witnesses to the explosion, and there was no word yet on what caused it.

Becker said the workers were men who died at the scene. He said forensic work will be needed to determine their identities.

Neill declined to name the company that employed the workers. Samson officials were traveling to the area on Monday and state and federal investigators were on the scene, he said. The company planned to issue another statement Tuesday.

"Obviously we're very concerned about the family and friends in this situation," Neill said.

The state of Wyoming is investigating the blast through its Department of Workforce Services.

Danni said his office has two investigators on the scene to determine the cause of the explosion and whether any workplace safety violations contributed to it.



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