On November 15, 2016, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) announced big news: the Wolfcamp shale field in the Midland portion of Texas’ Permian Basin is the largest continuous oil accumulation ever found in the U.S. Containing 20 billion barrels of oil, 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 1.6 billion barrels of natural gas liquids, Wolfcamp contains nearly three times the amount of recoverable resources than that contained in the 2013 USGS Bakken-Three Forks assessment.
This is good news for drillers, production companies and oilfield service businesses in Texas. But what does it mean for oilfield workers? They can expect additional employment opportunities in an industry that has been hard-hit by lower oil prices. However, increased drilling and production activity in the Wolfcamp shale field will almost certainly lead to more accidents.
As any experienced oil worker will tell you, oil and gas fields are dangerous places. Serious injury and death can stem from a number of sources. These include falling equipment and objects, electrical accidents, explosions, and fires at the well head. And increased traffic in and around the production zone can result in serious and deadly truck accidents.
Much of the recoverable hydrocarbon resources in the Permian Basin that surround Wolfcamp have been found in discrete, localized accumulations. These have been exploited using traditional vertical drilling methods. However, the Wolfcamp shale field consists of dispersed hydrocarbon accumulations. These require specialized hydraulic fracking methods to be economically exploited. Unfortunately, we can expect a significant number of drilling and production workers to suffer serious injuries as the Wolfcamp field is assessed, developed and exploited.