Managing Worker Exposure to Silica-Based Products in Sequences of Shale Reservoir Stimulation Operations

Source: E&P Magazine | 19 August 2014

Employing an occupational and safety management system to shale gas reservoir stimulation operations assures that worker health and safety are considered at each step in the hydraulic fracturing life cycle. Management systems also support the ongoing reassessment that is required as new information is developed about the hazards of new and existing proppants and other chemical hazards, resulting in sustainable health and safety performance.

Exposure to crystalline silica particles of respirable size has been identified as an occupational health hazard associated with hydraulic fracturing operations. When inhaled, respirable-sized particles can enter the gas-exchange regions of the lung, according to a June 2012 hazard alert from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) that was titled “Worker Exposure to Silica During Hydraulic Fracturing.” Exposures are typically due to the mechanical handling of large volumes of dry crystalline silica. Future innovations, including the use of nano-enabled proppants and lubricants, may introduce occupational health hazards that have not yet been fully characterized.

Uncertainties exist about exposure risks and the appropriate controls needed to mitigate the potential risks to worker health. These factors prompt the adoption of a robust management system to ensure that worker health and safety are considered at each step in the development, use, and ultimate disposal of silica and other proppant materials.

Group To Examine Potential Health Effects From Producing Unconventional Resources

Source: Journal of Petroleum Technology | 15 August 2014

Unconventional resources offer many substantial benefits, yet the rapid increase in production of these resources using hydraulic fracturing has generated scrutiny by some policymakers and advocates who cite health concerns. The Exploration and Production Health Issues Group was recently formed to provide research, scientific analysis, and guidance on health issues regarding unconventional-resource production (URP). The group is particularly focused on community health concerns, including those associated with the compositions of hydraulic-fracturing fluid and flowback, effects on aquifers, air emissions, and psychosocial stress related to operations.

Chemical Disclosure

Opinion polls have found that community residents are most concerned about the possibility of drinking-water contamination from hydraulic fracturing. The idea that fracturing fluids of unknown composition are pumped underground through groundwater is the cause of that concern. A key issue for the industry to address is communicating the full nature of this risk while maintaining the confidentiality of proprietary chemicals used. The composition of fracturing fluids is the intellectual property of companies that develop the wellsite. The skill required to identify the right fluid composition for particular fracturing operations is what keeps those companies in business. But the need to protect some portion of fluid compositions as confidential business information (CBI) has been exploited by some opposed to URP to spread fear about unknown toxic chemicals and the harm they may cause.

To address this challenge, the Groundwater Protection Council, an organization of state regulators, created FracFocus. FracFocus is a Web-based chemical disclosure registry where the nonconfidential chemicals used in fracturing for a particular wellsite are posted for public viewing. In many states, the use of FracFocus to disclose nonconfidential chemicals is mandatory. Some segments of the URP industry believe that additional steps must be taken to develop criteria to assess the suitability of a chemical for use in URP from the perspective of health, safety, and environmental effects, and they have been working to develop criteria and a user-friendly tool to implement those criteria in URP operations. While some chemicals will continue to be identified as CBI under existing regulations and policy, operators and service companies would apply the established criteria of suitability for hydraulic fracturing. The objective is to encourage continued development of new and improved fracturing fluids while maintaining the intellectual–property protections of the companies that develop them and enhancing public confidence that protection of health and the environment is integrated into the selection of chemicals.

The balance between the legitimate need to keep certain information confidential and the processes by which compositional information is provided to experts on a need-to-know basis should be communicated better to the public to help build and maintain trust.

Program Ranks Musculoskeletal Risk of Operating Valves in Process Industries

Source: Journal of Petroleum Technology | 7 August 2014

Every process plant presents a high number and diversity of valves that control the flow of feedstock, products, and service liquids and gases. A comprehensive program was developed for a major US refinery to assess the musculoskeletal risk associated with manually operated valves then to rank each valve according to the risk each poses to plant operators and maintenance technicians. Valve repair and replacement is expensive, so the cost-effective approach was to assess only those valves that are critical to plant operation.


Process plants contain a large number of process valves with a wide diversity of designs that control the flow of a wide range of fluids. The ergonomic issues associated with the design, operation, and maintenance of valves include

  • Physical stress to open and close them
  • Potential for injuries and subsequent related costs
  • Lack of access to process-critical valves
  • Difficulty of removing and replacing them
  • Potential for process upsets when valves cannot be operated in the time required

As a result of injuries suffered while operating valves, a major US petroleum-refinery company initiated a program to identify high-risk valves and to modify them to reduce the operating risk of injury.

Fig. 1—Systematic approach to working with valves in process operations.

A model, illustrated in Fig. 1, was developed to create a systematic approach to identify the valve issues in a process plant, analyze the issues, prioritize the valves that need attention, implement a solution, and measure the results. The approach can be modified to reflect the unique character of the plant that implements the program.

The objectives of the study were to

  • Develop a valve-risk-assessment program unique to the process plant based on the plant’s human-factors engineering-design standards and the valve-assessment model.
  • Assist site personnel in identifying the process-significant valves and surveying them to determine the top candidates for repair or replacement.

Process-significant valves were those that met the following definitions:

  • Frequently operated—valves that are operated more than four times per year
  • Operated in an emergency—emergency block valves, emergency isolation valves, battery-limit valves, depressuring valves, and dump valves
  • Manual, gear-operated valves
  • Large valves—valves with valve wheels ≥24 in. in diameter
  • Manual block valves and bypass valves around control valves

Column: Quantitative Risk Assessment of Toxic Gas Hazards

Source: Health and Safety Middle East | 14 July 2014

Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as self-contained breathing apparatus, protective clothing, safety glasses, boots, and gloves are widely used in today’s oil and gas industry. Temporary refuge shelters as well as fresh air supply systems are normally recommended when the presence of highly toxic gases is possible.

The question is how to avoid a large number of fatalities or serious injuries in the case of undesired toxic gas release or toxic liquid spill and how deeply should one look into the safety equipment and systems? With companies in the oil and gas industry operating globally, they are always worried about their reputations because huge markets could be lost. Companies, therefore, are concerned about the health of employees, the effect of their business on the environment, the capital investment from one side, and the amount of money they will need to invest in order to practically and reasonably avoid a catastrophic release of toxic substances.

Some may believe the greater the investment in safety, the safer the industry will be. While this may be common sense, history shows this is not true. This article shows a risk-based methodology to try to find an optimized solution, which takes into consideration the reasonable amount of investment required for safety in the industry, to avoid the occurrence of a major accident hazard (MAH). This is done by identifying components that contribute to these hazards, as well as suggesting methods to either eliminate these components or provide recommendations that make the risks tolerable.

Heat Mitigation Measures in Shell’s Qatar Pearl GTL Construction Project

Source: Health and Safety Middle East | 14 July 2014

The extreme heat stress conditions present in Qatar during the summer months require the implementation of stringent control measures to protect the health and safety of the workforce.

Pearl GTL

During the years of construction, Pearl GTL—the world’s largest gas-to-liquids plant in the world—developed its Beat the Heat campaign, taking into consideration learnings and best practices from across the industry, other countries in the region, and across the globe.

In order to minimize the risk, a multipronged approach was taken under the canopy of the Project Heat Stress Prevention Procedure, based on the traditional risk-management concept of identify, assess, control, and recover.

Qatar’s massive Pearl GTL facility, built in partnership with Qatar Petroleum, took more than 500 million man-hours to construct. At its peak, the construction workforce reached nearly 53,000 people.

Public Health England: Hydraulic Fracturing Poses Low Risk to Human Health if Properly Regulated

Source: Shale Energy Insider | 30 June 2014

Public Health England (PHE) has published the final version of its review of the potential public health effects of exposures to chemical and radioactive pollutants as a result of shale gas extraction.

PHE has reviewed the literature on the potential public health effects of exposures to chemical and radioactive pollutants as a result of shale gas extraction. It has concluded that the currently available evidence indicates that the potential risks to public health in the vicinity of shale gas extraction sites will be low if shale gas extraction is properly run and regulated.

Where potential risks have been identified in the literature, the reported problems are typically a result of operational failure and a poor regulatory environment. Therefore good on-site management and appropriate regulation of all aspects from exploratory drilling, gas capture, use and storage of fracking fluid, and post-operations decommissioning are essential to minimize the risk to the environment and public health.

Researchers Unveil Ways To Reduce Environmental, Health Risks of Shale Gas Extraction

Source: West Virginia University | 30 June 2014

A new study by researchers at West Virginia University offers 10 recommendations for reducing the environmental and human health effects associated with horizontal drilling and the hydraulic fracturing process.

The recommendations address air, noise, and light pollution; water management; and engineering flaws associated with horizontal gas well development and completion.

The study, titled Practical Measures for Reducing the Risk of Environmental Contamination in Shale Energy Production, is co-authored by Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute, John Quaranta, assistant professor of environmental engineering at the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, and Michael McCawley, interim chair of the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health Sciences at the School of Public Health.

Gas extraction from shale gas formations has been made possible by recent advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing technology. In the eastern United States, the Marcellus formation gas play is one of the nation’s major natural gas reserves and, in West Virginia alone, nearly 3,000 horizontal wells have been developed since 2008.

While rapid adoption of these methods has led to a surge in natural gas production in the United States, it has also increased public concern about its environmental and human health effects.

“These facilities are often located within a few hundred meters of homes and farms, many of which are supplied by shallow water wells,”  Ziemkiewicz said. “As a result, many of the public’s concerns focus on air and groundwater pollution as well as light and noise associated with horizontal drilling and well completion. This study was initiated largely due to these public concerns.”

Ziemkiewicz, along with the other researchers, conducted a thorough review of environmental literature relevant to shale gas development and examined more than 15 Marcellus shale facilities in northern West Virginia.

NIOSH Seeks Help To Characterize Risks During Chemical Flowback

Source: OSHA | 16 June 2014

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is requesting assistance from oil and gas stakeholders to better characterize the types and magnitude of risks for exposing workers to volatile chemicals during oil and gas extraction. NIOSH is also seeking recommendations for developing and implementing exposure controls.

A new blog on NIOSH’s website summarizes flowback operations, addresses related reports of recent worker deaths, and identifies preliminary recommendations to reduce the potential for hazardous exposures. NIOSH is focusing interest on this subject after learning about several worker deaths associated with flowback operations through media reports, OSHA officials, and members of the academic community.

Health Effects Institute Creates Committee To Examine Effects of Unconventional Oil and Gas Development

Source: Health Effects Institute | 19 May 2014

In response to a growing need to improve the understanding of potential effects of recent increases in gas and oil development, independent research organization Health Effects Institute (HEI) has convened a special committee of experts to develop a strategic plan to guide future research on the potential health and environmental impacts of unconventional oil and gas development in the Appalachian Basin.

This initiative, supported by a number of foundations in the region, aims to produce a summary appraisal of what we know today by late 2014, and a strategic plan to answer key questions by the middle of 2015.

Colorado Legislative Committee OKs Oil and Gas Health Impact Study

Source: Denver Post | 2 April 2014

A plan for a detailed analysis on the potential health impacts of oil and gas development on the Front Range was approved on 1 April by a state legislative committee.

The analysis, to be done by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, will cover six Front Range counties and cost an estimated USD 700,000.

“Fear is driving communities to bans and moratoriums, and fear shouldn’t be the motivation,” said Rep. Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins, sponsor of the bill that creates the study.

Four municipalities and Boulder County have adopted bans or moratoriums on hydraulic fracturing, a key technique in drilling.

Under the bill, the state health department will review existing health studies and conduct a health survey among randomly selected residents.

Health and Safety at Work: Companies Shift Attitudes

Source: Safe to Work | 3 March 2014

The approach to occupational health and safety is changing for the better all over the world.

Companies are shifting from a reactive attitude to a conscious management of operational issues, a prelude to the development of a real corporate culture of occupational health and safety.

These are the findings of an international survey conducted by DNV GL—Business Assurance and the research institute GFK Eurisko on more than 3,860 professionals from businesses in different industries in Europe, the Americas, and Asia.

Health & Safety Management

Managing health and safety at work has become an integrated part of today’s corporate strategy. More than 90% of people surveyed agree, and 76% state they even implement an ad hoc policy, above and beyond what is required by law and regulations.

The bigger the corporation the higher the application rate, but, surprisingly, 70% of small firms adopt specific approaches, too.

Workers Need More Protection From Silica Dust, Report Finds

Source: US National Library of Medicine | 28 January 2014

More action is needed to reduce illness and death among the millions of Americans exposed to silica dust at work, according to a new report.

It has long been known that silica—a natural substance found in most rocks, sand, and clay—causes the lung disease silicosis, and evidence has mounted in recent decades that silica causes lung cancer, said report coauthor Kyle Steenland, of the School of Public Health at Emory University.

“Current regulations have substantially reduced silicosis death rates in the United States, but new cases of silicosis continue to be diagnosed,” Steenland said.