Crude oil production in the U.S. has risen in the past several years as the U.S. has attempted to decrease reliance on oil produced in the Middle East. As such, pipeline construction has become a booming industry.
Both oil and gas pipelines, several millions miles’ worth, already existed in the United States. In addition to this, there are millions of miles of transmission lines carrying the oil and gas to other locations.
Pipelines sometimes carry other substances, as well. The pipelines themselves can present a danger, and the construction of them particularly so, to the workers who are in close contact with the construction project while it is underway.
Tasks Involved in Pipeline Construction
The tasks required to complete a pipeline construction project are often dangerous. These tasks include:
- Surveying the project site and staking boundaries;
- Clearing the site and installing erosion control methods;
- Trenching the soil to fit pipelines;
- Stringing pipes alongside the trenches;
- Welding these pipes together;
- Lowering the pipe in the ground;
- Filling in the trench;
- Testing the pipes; and
- Connecting the pipes to the refinery plant and pumps.
What Types of Accidents are Common During Pipeline Construction?
These highly involved construction projects require thousands of man hours performed by a large group of skilled construction workers. This is a highly risky job because heavy and dangerous equipment is used. In addition, the pipes are pumping extremely flammable oil.
Because of the dangers inherent in pipeline construction, construction accidents that result in both injuries and fatalities are overwhelmingly common. Injuries and fatalities frequently result from:
- Oil and gas explosions and fires;
- Faulty equipment;
- Lack of safe working conditions;
- Soil collapse around the trenches;
- Scaffolding collapses; and/or
- Falling equipment.
Major Pipeline Accidents in the U.S.
Although pipelines are safer for transportation of oil and gas than other methods of transport, such as trucks/tankers, the list of incidents with pipelines is extensive. Gas explosions, and oil and gas fire are a primary cause of injury and death to construction workers as well as to citizens living and working in proximity to a pipeline.
It is difficult to separate the statistics on pipeline accidents in general, and pipeline construction accidents in particular, but the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) collects and reports data on all pipeline incidents, of which there have been more than 3,000 in the last three decades. They report on incidents that are “significant,” meaning they involved:
- Fatality or injury requiring hospitalization;
- $50,000 or more of damage (in 1984 dollars);
- 5 or more barrels (a barrel is 42 U.S. gallons) of liquid released; and/or
- Liquid release created fire or explosion.
Legal Issues and Concerns with Pipeline Constructions
Most major pipeline construction began in the middle of the 20th century, and it was after that that laws regulating them, and environmental laws, began to be enacted and to expand. Pipelines are subject to both the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act and the Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Safety Act.
Environmental laws concerning clean air and water are also related to pipelines and the hazardous materials they carry. There is also an Office of Pipeline Safety (OPS) within the United States federal government.
Initially, most pipelines ran through rural areas, but over time, society has crowded in around them, which necessitates additional safety regulations. Also, as the pipelines age, regulation is needed to maintain them and keep them in safe operating condition. Explosions and leaks are major concerns for general population safety, as well as for those involved in the construction of the pipelines.
Who is Responsible for My Injury?
If you suffered an injury while working at a pipeline construction site, there are multiple different entities that may be responsible for your injury.
The company that employs the construction worker is directly responsible for injuries and fatalities. This may be either the company that owns the oil pipeline or a construction company. You can pursue personal injury, wrongful death, negligence, and workers compensation claims against these organizations.
If a piece of defective equipment or machinery caused the injury, you may also sue a third party equipment manufacturer.
If a fellow construction worker caused your injury, such as by dropping a piece of pipeline on your foot, you may also have a claim for negligence against this contractor.
Should I Consult a Lawyer After a Pipeline Construction Accident?
Not only are there various organizations and people who may be responsible for your injury, but there are also numerous different claims you can pursue following an injury. Determining which organization is responsible and which claim is the best to pursue is a determination best performed by an experienced personal injury lawyer. A personal injury lawyer can help you evaluate your claims, negotiate a settlement, and pursue damages for medical care and compensation via trial.