“Gasland” Film Maker Turns His Lens to Worker Safety in the Gas Fields

Feb 19th, 2013 | By Mark | Category: Fracking, Lead Articles, Regulation

NatGas Consulting

Workers at hydraulic fracturing rigs are often exposed to hazardous materials on the job. In this photo, provided by the National Institute of Occuaptional Safety and Health, a worker appears to be at risk for exposure to silica, a fine quartz dust that can cause silicosis, a incurable and fatal lung condition that slowly suffocates its victims by reducing the lungs' capacity to absorb oxygen.

Academy-award nominated filmmaker Josh Fox will soon release a short film called CJ’s Law that he hopes will shine a light on the workplace safety hazards faced every day by workers in the gas fields.

The legislation at the heart of the film, S3466-2013, also known as CJ’s Law, would establish basic workplace safety protections in the State of New York aimed at protecting the men and women who work in the gas fields. Among other provisions, the law would specifically require drilling companies to:

  • notify workers when they are being exposed to toxic chemicals in the workplace, and limit that exposure,
  • limit the number of consecutive hours that can be worked by both on-site workers and those involved in off-site transportation activities,
  • provide proper training and safety equipment to workers,
  • properly care for and treat workplace clothing that has been exposed to hazardous materials, and
  • provide clean and safe living conditions to workers who live on site.

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The law would also specifically define employees of the drilling companies as employees, instead of independent contractors, who are eligible for worker’s compensation benefits.

“Our hope is that this bill will become a template for similar workplace safety legislation in every state in the country,” Fox told NaturalGasWatch.org during a recent interview. “This is a situation of criminal negligence, in my view. These companies are cutting corners and they’re doing at the workers’ expense.”

Workers on a natural gas drilling rig are routinely exposed to an astonishing array of toxic substances. Photo courtesy NIOSH.

Fox said he was inspired to make the film after meeting the family of C.J. Bevins at an anti-fracking rally. Bevins was killed on May 1, 2011, while working on a natural gas drilling rig.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as it has come to be called in the parlance of our times, is a procedure in which tens of thousands of gallons of water, laced with a toxic brew of hazardous chemicals, and tons of sand are injected deep underground to break up shale formations, thereby freeing the methane trapped within so it can be harvested by the natural gas companies.

The workplace safety conditions in the gas fields, are abominable, Fox said, adding that workers are often unaware of the hazardous nature of the chemicals they routinely handle during the course of their daily work and basic safety equipment is not in place.

Indeed, a recent workplace safety analysis of natural gas drilling locations at 11 sites in five states (CO, AR, PA, TX and ND) conducted in 2010-2011 by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that workers at hydraulic fracturing sites were routinely exposed to dangerous levels of a broad range of hazardous materials, and called out a particular risk to silica exposure.

Fracking workers are at particular risk from exposure to silica, a fine dust that can cause silicosis. At right, a side-by-side comparison of healthy lung tissue and lung tissue from a victim of silicosis. Photo courtesy of NIOSH.

Silica is fine, nearly microscopic quartz dust that can be absorbed into the lungs unless workers are equipped with respirators. It causes a condition called silicosis, an incurable and fatal lung disease that slowly kills its victims by destroying the lungs’ capacity to absorb oxygen.

Fox told NaturalGasWatch.org that he is looking at a number of mechanisms to release the film, which is still in production. He added that when CJ’s Law does premiere, he hopes the film will draw attention to the dangers workers face every day in the gas fields.

“The gas companies are telling people that they’re creating jobs — good jobs that pay really well — and people take these jobs, thinking that they’ll work for a year or two, make a lot of money and retire. But the problem is, they don’t get to work for that long. They get sick before they make any money,” Fox said. “Gas worker are seven times more likely to die on the job than workers in other occupations, and they are 100 percent more likely to handle toxic chemicals that have a long history of killing you. Does that sound like a good job? Is that progress? Would you take a job like that?”

You can watch the trailer for CJ’s Law here:

TRAILER for “CJ’s LAW ” A New Short Film on Worker Safety in the Gas Fields by Josh Fox from JFOX on Vimeo.

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5 Comments to ““Gasland” Film Maker Turns His Lens to Worker Safety in the Gas Fields”

  1. Jose L.Ojeda says:

    I have decided to stop sleeping. Its time to stand for the things we know are right!!!!!!!

  2. Luke Ashley says:

    One of the reasons I`m so strongly opposed to the industry. There are plenty of other reasons to oppose the hydrocarbon extraction industry (Gold diggers) , but lack of regulation and the safety (or lack of it in the majority of cases) are a couple of them.
    I`m an ex North Sea drill crew worker (6`ish years) and although the UK boast some of the best regulations and health and safety at work practices in the world, I`ve had my share of minor accidents and near FATAL misses. I`ve lost some work mates and know of others with health issues long after leaving the industry but blame their illnesses on the work they did.
    Time is money in the drilling industry and if you so much as dream about joining a union, you will be found out and on the next chopper home. They pay you good money, not because you have a skill, but to lure you back again and again. I found the work interesting at times but the majority of the time I absolutely hated it. It was only because I had no other job prospects, the pay was good and working 2 on 2 off, I had plenty of time off to spend my pay. Because I had such a bad time on the rig/s, when I got home, all I wanted to do was enjoy myself which ended up meaning I drank a lot. I have nothing to show for my 6 years on good pay and the skills I picked up relate to nothing onshore, so looking for work when I quit the industry was very difficult.
    I really feel for these guys working on land gas rigs in places like America where very little or no regulation exists. This fracking frenzy is so destructive in so many ways. Fox is right, but take it from an ex drill crew worker, stay well clear of the drilling industry.

  3. Robert Hasty says:

    The main reason safety is such an issue with these fracking jobs is yes, “THEY ARE UNTRAINED NON UNION WORKERS” I’ve been on both sides of the fence and I can tell you being UNION provides much better training and pay. These non union employees are afraid for the their job and if they do know their rights they wont speak about them. They’d rather put their own lives and co workers in jeopardy just because they need a pay check. Even if it is below the standards for education, skill levels, wages, and working conditions.

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