Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

High Roller Wells Cited for ‘Serious Violations’ After Pearsall Explosion

Photo courtesy of Pearsall Volunteer Fire Department

An explosion and fire rocked an oil fracking site in South Texas Jan. 19. Three were injured.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), a division of the Department of Labor, has issued citations for ten “serious safety violations” to High Roller Wells, Inc., a company that owns a disposal well in Pearsall, Texas, some 50 miles southwest of San Antonio in the Eagle Ford Shale.

As we reported earlier this year, a Jan. 19 explosion blew the lid off a storage tank, injuring three. A fire burned for over an hour as the all-volunteer Pearsall Fire Department (and three other nearby departments) battled the flames with twelve trucks and 33 firefighters. The explosion likely started when workers there were welding near storage tanks — a decision that had many in the industry scratching their heads. The site is used for disposing of fluids from hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

In a phone call with StateImpact Texas, OSHA’s San Antonio-area director Jeff Funke said that “we don’t issues citations lightly. We look at what’s legally sufficient. “These are measures that should have been in place before we got there.” In a news release, Funke also said that “if OSHA’s standards had been followed, it is possible this unfortunate incident could have been avoided.”

While the well is operated by a company called High Roller Wells (which doesn’t appear to have a website), it’s unclear who actually owns it. When asked about it earlier this year, the Railroad Commission would only say that it does not “have information on investors or owners of oil and gas facilities.”

In our earlier report, we found that the company “incorporated in 2010, and it received a permit for the disposal well in August of last year. The company appears to be named after another company under the same ownership, High Roller Whitetails, a deer breeding operation. They breed whitetail bucks, some of them with horns over 300 inches, with names like Escalade, Bambi Rio and Rolex.”

More from OSHA’s release:

“The violations include failing to ensure that workers are provided with fall protection while working on the tops of tanks, ensure that equipment and electrical wiring are rated for the environment in which they are being used, take necessary precautions to prevent possible ignition sources such as sparks or static electricity, conduct a workplace hazard assessment to determine the appropriate personal protective equipment needed, ensure that there is an emergency action plan in place and provide an eyewash station for employees working around acids. A serious violation occurs when there is substantial probability that death or serious physical harm could result from a hazard about which the employer knew or should have known.”

The penalties come in at $46,200, and High Roller Wells has fifteen business days to comply or contest, OSHA said. “The penalities are only reduced only if the employer’s willing to do something above and beyond the OSHA standard,” Funke says. “I’m very optimistic with this employer. They’ve been very cooperative. I think we’ll reach a settlement.”



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