Monday, September 19, 2016

Cranial fracture caused worker's death at the Williams Opal natural gas processing plant in Lincoln County.


Heather Richards 307-266-0592,
Updated 18 min ago

Head trauma caused the death of Michael Smuin, the plant worker who died Wednesday at the Williams Opal natural gas processing plant in Lincoln County.

The 36-year-old from Kemmerer suffered a cranial fracture and died instantly, said Lincoln County Coroner Michael Richins.

Smuin was thrown off his feet and into surrounding structures, resulting in the head injury, the coroner said.

"He never knew what happened," he said.

Smuin also suffered burns, but those did not contribute to his death, Richins concluded.

Circumstances leading to the incident are under investigation.

Preliminary reports from state regulators said Smuin was found near a burst pipe. A witness to the incident reported seeing a cloud of natural gas.

Smuin was doing routine maintenance when he died. He had worked for the company for eight years, according to a company statement.

An investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration began on scene Wednesday evening. Those findings are sealed until the investigation is complete, and that could take weeks.

The Lincoln County sheriff’s office has not responded to messages left Wednesday, Thursday and Monday.

The plant issued a statement Wednesday saying there had been no fire or explosion, expressing condolences to Smuin’s family and offering counseling services to plant workers.

The processing plant is back online and operating at normal capacity, after a brief shutdown Wednesday and Thursday due to the incident, a company spokeswoman confirmed.

The Williams plant is an important natural gas hub in the Rocky Mountain region, collecting and purifying natural gas in preparation for interstate pipeline transport.

Opal is a gathering point for natural gas from the Greater Green River Basin, Big Piney, Pinedale and Green River areas. The plant also produces natural gas liquids such as natural gasoline, propane and ethane.

Wednesday's incident was not the first to strike the small town of Opal.

On April 23, 2014, an explosion ignited one of the plant’s five processing trains. The resulting fire caused a 20-hour evacuation of the town. The blaze burned for five days.