The widow of a worker who was killed in a workplace accident involving an industrial sized blender has sued Nabors Drilling USA for negligence, according to a lawsuit filed this week in state district court in Harris County.
Luis Velazquez was working in March at an above ground mud pit at a drilling site in West Texas. He was cleaning the giant metal blades used to stir mud to keep water and dirt from separating when the machine was turned on and the blades began to rotate.
Velazquez, 47, was conscious as the blades chopped his body and suffered before he died, said Chad Inderman, a trial lawyer in Lubbock who is representing Velazquez's widow, Olga Lidia Mendivil Soto.
"All that was left of him was his chest and his head," said Inderman. "It's horrible."
Nabors did not immediately return a request for comment.
Culberson County Sheriff officials and EMS were busy in the Northern portion of the county near Orla, the site of busy oil and gas activity. Upon arrival to a Nabors Drilling Rig, Sheriff Oscar Carrillo reported he was escorted to the site of the fatal accident. Sheriff Carrillo was advised that 44-year-old Jose Velasquez, of Lovington, New Mexico was killed underneath the drilling rigs deck plate where he was tethered and working in a chamber with rotating blades that requires periodic cleaning when the accident happened.
The unattended death was documented by Sheriff Carrillo as the initial process of the investigation. Carrillo told The Advocate the accident was with Man Welding Services based out of Lovington, New Mexico.
The accident marks six fatalities, according to the Sheriff, associated with drilling in the county since about 2005. The last incident involved a fire, which broke out at the Ramsey Natural Gas Processing Plant near Orla in December 2015. During that incident, 200 people were on site with two minor injuries reported. Eyewitnesses as far away as Carlsbad report feeling the explosion.
Nabors Blamed in Death of Oilfield Worker
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration has placed Nabors Completion and Production Services Co. on its list of the nation’s most dangerous employers after finding the company could have prevented a massive explosion that killed a 28-year-old Marine combat veteran in October 2014.
Dustin Payne’s employer “failed to clean the water hauling tank thoroughly” prior to welding and cutting operations that killed him in North Dakota, OSHA investigators found, issuing one willful and four serious safety citations and proposing fines of $92,000.
“Payne and his fiancée should be discussing marriage and their future together. Instead, she is left stricken and trying to move forward without him,” said Eric Brooks, OSHA’s area director in Bismarck. “This tragic incident was recognizable and preventable.”
Last year, OSHA placed a different subsidiary of Nabors Industries Ltd., a Bermuda-based company that maintains a corporate and executive office in Houston, on a list called the Severe Violator Enforcement Program. However, that subsidiary, Nabors Drilling USA, was later removed from the list, after Nabors went to court and successfully contested part of the violations related to a different North Dakota death.
Nabors spokesman Dennis Smith did not immediately return an e-mail from the Chronicle seeking comment. The company has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before an independent commission.
A 2014 Houston Chronicle investigative series on oilfield accidents found that Nabors Drilling USA had reported more deaths than nearly all other oil and gas employers involved in drilling, well service or petroleum extraction businesses. From 2007-14, the Chronicle found that three Nabors sister companies – Nabors Drilling USA, Nabors Well Services Co. and Nabors Completion and Production Services Co. – together had reported at least 18 fatal accidents or worksite deaths to OSHA, according to a review of records from multiple states.
A previous analysis by the newspaper showed that Nabors Drilling and Nabors Well Services had reported more deaths in Texas than any other similar oilfield employer in the boom years from 2007-11.
Federal statistics, which run about two years behind, show that Texas and North Dakota have had some of the nation’s highest reported oilfield deaths. From 2008-2012, Texas reported 216 deaths and North Dakota reported 31 out of a national total of 545, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Oilfield deaths declined in Texas in 2013 compared to a decade high of 65 in 2012. But OSHA reports oil and gas and construction-related fatal accidents in North Dakota have continued to rise – with 21 killed from January 2012 to July 2014.