Comparing Risks: Offshore versus Onshore Drilling

July 29, 2022 @ 4:40 pm

Working in the oilfield industry is dangerous. In fact, onshore or offshore, the jobs that have to be done represent some of the most hazardous lines of work across all occupations. Both offshore and onshore drilling are trying to accomplish the same objective—extracting fossil fuels that lie beneath the surface. Location, however—where a company is drilling—can make significant differences in the work environment, the scale of the work, the distances involved, and the risks of onshore and offshore injury that workers face.

Offshore Drilling Versus Onshore Drilling

From the initial stages of locating natural resources and identifying where to drill, exploration comes with risks.

  • Companies use seismic vibration to find deposits. Onshore, heavy machinery vibrates the surface of the earth. In some cases, explosives create the vibration. Offshore, sonic blasts of sound create the vibrations.
  • Once geologists are able to map the area, the next step is to set up an exploratory well—often a series of wells to locate the best source. This is an intensive heavy-construction stage that can be dogged by unexpected circumstances, and wells that are not financially viable are often abandoned.
  • If flow and production data from the well seem worthwhile, the exploratory well will become a development well. Construction will ramp up, sites often expand into 24/7 operations, and the workforce increases to peak levels. While transportation is important during exploration, it becomes even more vital for every aspect of logistics.
  • Types of wells can vary from single vertical wells to multiple directional wells feeding one location to horizontal wells reaching difficult-to-access resources. In addition, while some wells are able to use natural pressure from the earth for flow, some require input force to release oil or gas from the ground and channel it up through a well.

The major difference between onshore drilling and offshore drilling is that onshore drilling is seeking to release resources from beneath the earth’s surface, while offshore drilling is seeking to release resources from beneath the ocean’s seabed.

Risks of Onshore Versus Offshore Injury

Adding a huge body of water to the extraction equation doesn’t necessarily make offshore drilling any riskier than onshore operations. It does, however, make the risks different in nature.

1. Work-Life Schedule—For workers, a key difference between offshore and onshore drilling is the demand of a work schedule.

  • Offshore workers not only work but also must live on the offshore drilling rigs for hitches that last weeks or often even months. Schedules are often 12 hours on duty and 12 hours off, but you’re always on the rig or platform and dealing with the intrinsic risks associated with an offshore environment. While meals and other conveniences like gyms and internet accessibility are provided, quarters and amenities are typically shared and can make getting adequate quality sleep a challenge.
  • Onshore workers may live in a full-service camp or—if the drilling site is near a town—may be lodged in a nearby hotel, given living expenses, and bussed to and from the site. For onshore workers driving to, from and on the job, fatigue from long shifts day after day can be dangerous.

Onshore or offshore, workers must deal with fatigue after long multi-day stints. For offshore workers, they may have long fly-in or fly-out legs plus driving between home and the offshore site. For onshore workers, they may have long drives between the site and home. For either, fatigue can affect alertness and decision-making abilities.

2. Distances Involved—Offshore rigs can be anywhere from several hundred yards to hundreds of miles from the shoreline. The further the distance from shore, however, the longer transport times are, and the more difficult getting to or from the site becomes. Bad weather can add a whole other degree of complexity.

  • This can be a critical difference from onshore sites if offshore workers become ill or are seriously injured and need immediate transport to an onshore medical facility.
  • Likewise, if a catastrophic accident occurs—fires, explosions or a capsize, for example—the facility and crew are out on the ocean.

Offshore platforms and rigs are not only often considerable distances from shore but also situated in water that is anywhere from 10 feet to thousands of feet deep; the deepest approach 10,000 feet. Supplies are often delivered and waste removed by ship regularly due to limited storage capabilities. Evacuation from an offshore site during an emergency or prior to severe weather demands considerably more logistical resources than onshore incidents require.

3. Organization and Investment—Because of the distances, water depths and drilling depths involved, offshore drilling operations tend to be significant undertakings that require levels of financial investment and risk that only large corporations are able to bear—especially as resources become increasingly difficult to locate and extract. Building, transporting and assembling rigs and platforms at sea are massive projects often subject to the public eye.

Meanwhile, onshore drilling operations can be as simple as a mobile rig loaded on a truck trailer—or as complex as horizontal wells running miles across multiple parcels of land that require advanced extraction technologies. Wildcatter or massive corporation, however, the operations are conveniently land-based.

Onshore or offshore, major corporations are seeking to invest and make a profit. Many parts of operations are contracted and subcontracted through various subordinate companies and enterprises. What can be tricky is knowing who is ultimately responsible for workers’ safety both on duty and off and for maintaining rigs, platforms and all their associated equipment.

4. Transportation and Vehicular Accidents—Transportation can be one of the most dangerous aspects of working onshore or off.

  • Offshore, everything has to be delivered to or taken from the rig or platform by either sea or air—by boat or helicopter. This includes workers. Choppy seas, high winds or unpredictable weather can make either transport venue treacherous. Many operations use contracted helicopter services to fly workers on and off of the site. Hazards can include everything from system failures and loss of control to crashes and collisions with objects or structures.
  • Onshore, transportation is primarily land-based, but the assortment of heavy trucks, equipment and pickups, for example, represents a lot of movement and opportunity for accidents. According to Resolve—a company focused on environmental and health mediation—an onshore site in the early phases of development may have as many as “1,148 one-way heavy truck trips and 831 one-way light truck trips” by some estimates. Thanks to long hours and long commutes, “oil and gas workers are 8.5 times more likely to die in motor vehicle accidents on the job than people working in industries overall.”

5. Weather—Rain, wind and lightning can be problematic for both offshore and onshore drilling sites.

  • Rain has a universal capability to make surfaces and equipment wet and slippery and obscure visibility. Heights can become treacherous, and simple slips and falls can be fatal.
  • Heavy winds can be strong enough to cause accidents due to unsecured equipment or cables or throw workers off balance. Winds can even damage secured equipment and bend pipes.
  • Lightning brings its own dangers to both sensitive electronic equipment and workers thanks to strikes and secondary electrical surges. Due to their nature—often miles of pipe in the ground—rigs are grounded. However, rigs are made primarily of metal—a conduit for lightning. Anything touching the metal—including human beings—can become a conduit. Lightning can also fan out over surrounding water or ground—an especially dangerous possibility onshore.
  • If storms intensify to hurricane status, tracking storms and staging offshore evacuations can be complex and hazardous.

Offshore, weather can be particularly unpredictable, and workers on rigs and platforms have to deal with not only the weather itself but also the weather’s effect on the water. This often translates as cresting waves that can generate pressures of more than several thousand pounds per square inch, and everything exposed to those forces needs to be able to withstand them.

Onshore or Offshore Injury in the Oil and Gas Industry

Working in the oil and gas drilling and extraction industry is hard, dangerous work. OSHA statistics often categorize the injuries, citing the most hazardous dangers:

  • Vehicle Collisions—“Roughly 4 of every 10 workers killed on the job in this industry are killed as a result of a highway vehicle incident.”
  • Struck-By, Caught-In and Caught-Between Incidents—“Three of every five on-site fatalities in the oil and gas extraction industry are the result of struck-by/caught-in/caught-between hazards.”
  • Explosions and Fires—“The oil and gas industry has more deaths from fires and explosions than any other private industry.”
  • Falls—“About 23 percent of worker injuries and 36 percent of fatalities in the oil and gas industry are due to slips, trips and falls.”
  • Confined Spaces—Fatalities that occur in confined spaces in the oil and gas industry include “asphyxiation, poisoning, engulfment, oxygen deficiency, drowning, explosion, and electrocution.”
  • Ergonomic Hazards—Workers are regularly expected to do tasks that require “repeated bending, lifting heavy items, pushing and pulling weight loads, reaching overhead, performing the same or similar tasks repetitively, and working in awkward body postures.”

The lists often continue with dangers like exposures to chemicals or toxic gasses, high-pressure lines and equipment subject to blowouts, electrical and other hazardous energy, and machines. There are always the factors of fatigue and inexperience, as well.

In everyday life, the lists represent thousands of workers seriously injured or killed while doing work associated with an oil or gas extraction site, and someone is responsible.

If you are dealing with an onshore or offshore injury or have lost someone to one, reach out to the personal injury lawyers at Morrow, Morrow, Ryan, Bassett & Haik. You may be owed compensation for everything from lost wages and earning potential, medical expenses and living expenses to future care, rehabilitation and more. You can reach us online or by calling 800-655-4783 to schedule your free consultation. Everyone knows that the oil and gas industry is one of the most dangerous lines of work. When the worst happens, we know how to get you the compensation that you deserve.

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