Recalling Five Oil Workers Killed in Oklahoma

Oilfield on fire

Last January, five oil workers were killed in a fire and explosion at a Quinton, Oklahoma drilling rig. This was the deadliest drilling accident in the U.S. since 2010, when 11 workers died in the Gulf of Mexico on the Deepwater Horizon rig. Patterson Rig 219 was owned and operated by Patterson-UTI, Houston. The five men killed ranged in age from 26 to 60.

In July, attorneys filed an amended petition consolidating the five individual lawsuits, which was granted by the judge. District Judge James Bland found the cases against Patterson, Red Mountain Energy, LLC, Red Mountain LLC, and other contractors involved “identical issues and allegations.”

Let’s not forget the names of the men who burned to death in this incident: Matt Smith, 29, of McAlester, Oklahoma; Josh Ray, 35, of Fort Worth, Texas; Cody Risk, 26, of Wellington, Colorado; Parker Waldridge, 60, of Crescent, Oklahoma; and Roger Cunningham, 55, of Seminole, Oklahoma.

How the Explosion Occurred

According to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Red Mountain designed the well and drilling program - which included a plan to drill 10,286 feet horizontally and 7,700 feet vertically – while it was Patterson supplying the crew and rigs. On January 22, 2018, the crew drilled to about 13,500 feet when the decision was made to pull the entire assembly.  

Shortly before 8:30 a.m., Patterson removed the bit and drill string from the well. During the process, which had started the evening before, gas had entered the well. While the well had a blowout preventer, critical parts known as blind rams – large blocks of steel – did not fully close.

Little more than 15 minutes later, authorities were told of a fire at the site, reportedly from an uncontrolled gas release. The five men were trapped in a building atop the rig, known as the “dog house.” Their severely burned bodies were identified via dental records. The fire itself was not extinguished until 4 p.m. that day.

According to OSHA Oklahoma City Area Office Director David Bates, “These employers failed to properly control hazards involved in oil and gas extraction activities, and the result was tragic.”

16 Workplace Fatalities Since 2007 & 50 Since 1999

Since 2007, Patterson received 196 OSHA violations, and at least 16 workplace fatalities occurred on its sites, including the five Quinton deaths. Before the Quinton explosion, the last Patterson fatality occurred in 2013 in Barnhart, Texas, when a worker was crushed between the rig structure and a blowout preventer. In 2006, six Patterson workers were killed on the job; three died in 2005 and four in 2004. Since 1999, at least 50 Patterson workers have been killed on the job.

OSHA levied the maximum penalty allowed against the companies involved in the January 2018 incident, a mere $118,643.  

A Wrongful Death Suit

Dianna Waldridge’s husband Parker, 60, were among the dead. The couple were married 34 years and had four grown daughters. His widow has filed a lawsuit against the various entities involved, and the suit refers to Patterson as a “rogue corporate entity.” According to her lawsuit, Patterson practiced “multiple departures from safe drilling practices.”

The suit also states that Patterson did not properly maintain the machine operating the blind rams, and that it was in a state of severe disrepair. In fact, just two days before the explosion and fire, an email featuring a skull and crossbones was sent to Patterson superintendent and rig manager. The rig manager testified that he didn’t see the email but agreed it should have been taken seriously, while the superintendent couldn’t recall whether he had read the email.

Dianna Waldridge lives on the 320-acre ranch she shared with Parker, raising cattle and growing wheat. In an interview with the Center for Public Integrity, she said, “I’ve lost the man that I love, that I wanted to grow old with. Not having him will affect me forever.”

If you or a loved one are injured on a pipeline job, you may be eligible for significant financial recovery. Our Corpus Christi-based Williams PLLC oilfield injury attorneys represent injured pipeline workers in Texas, North Dakota, the Gulf of Mexico and across the nation. For a free, confidential case evaluation, contact Williams PLLC today. 361.885.0184 or Connect Online.

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