Food and Water Watch Tells Shale Workers: You “Don’t Need” Your Job

Food and Water Watch (F&WW) released a disingenuous paper this week on shale development and worker safety, which is essentially their attempt to put millions of Americans out of work.  Of course, their opining on health concerns isn’t about constructive solutions.  It’s about one thing only: banning fracking and the millions of jobs that come with it.

While F&WW continues to spread misinformation, here are a few key facts to know about worker safety:

Fact #1: The oil and gas industry is partnering with federal agencies to improve worker safety

Worker safety is of utmost importance and that’s why the oil and gas industry has partnered with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to help ensure that operations remain safe and efficient. This has and will continue to be a highly beneficial partnership — and the results are that the industry is on the right track.  As Eric Esswien, a Senior Industrial Hygienist at NIOSH stated last year after visiting a number of wells sites, the oil and gas industry “runs very, very safe work practices and sites.”

Fact #2: Illness/injury rates are significantly decreasing as production ramps up

F&WW wants us to believe, using its own calculations, that injury and fatality rates are through the roof and the problem is just getting worse.

To be clear any fatality or injury on the job is unacceptable and shows there’s a need to continue improving worker safety.  But as always, in order to understand if the risks are being managed, context is crucial. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), oil and gas development actually ranks well below a number of industries for worker risk, including fishing, bartending, farming, and taxi and limo drivers, just to name a few. In fact, the number of nonfatal injuries and illnesses in the oil and gas industry has significantly declined while production has ramped up to unprecedented levels. In 2011 the injury rate for oil and gas fell 33 percent, according to data released by BLS.   

F&WW goes to great lengths to highlight a report by the NIOSH, but, of course, it leaves out the part where NIOSH explains that injury rates are below the average for all private industry.  From that report:

“Most segments of oil and gas extraction report a lower nonfatal injury rate than the average for all private industry. In 2010 the estimated rate of nonfatal work-related injuries in oil and gas extraction (NAICS 211) was 1.2 per 100 full-time workers, 1.9 for workers in support activities for oil and gas extraction (NAICS 213112), and 3.3 for drilling oil and gas wells (NAICS 213111). The annual rate for all private industries during the same year was 3.5 nonfatal injuries per 100 full-time workers” (emphasis added).

On fatality rates, F&WW cites a report by the AFL-CIO, which the group says, “described the severity of the problem.” That’s not what it did at all.  First of all, according to the AFL-CIO, Pennsylvania is right at the national average for worker fatalities, tied with Hawaii.  Keep in mind that Pennsylvania is one of the top oil and gas producing states and over the past few years production there has soared to unprecedented levels.  Between 2005 and 2012, 90 percent of the job growth in Pennsylvania was due to oil and gas development.

In other words, if shale development were an inherent (and unmanageable) threat to worker safety, as F&WW purports, how could worker fatality rates be at the national average while production skyrocketed causing stratospheric job growth in the state?

Texas, the largest oil and gas producing state by far — where more wells are fractured than any other state — isn’t even in the bottom 10 in AFL-CIO’s report.  Keep in mind that from 2007 through 2012, Texas and Pennsylvania had the first and second largest increase, respectively, in total direct employment in oil and gas. Colorado, another major employer of oil and gas workers doesn’t rank in the bottom 20.

Fact #3: Food and Water Watch thinks shale jobs are “not needed” 

F&WW’s conclusion is that oil and gas jobs are “not the long-term sustainable jobs that people need or deserve.”

So F&WW takes it upon itself to speak for all the workers in the industry – however, those who actually have these jobs, which sustain their livelihoods, would beg to differ.  The Associated Press recently quoted Dennis Martire of the Laborers’ International Union (LIUNA) who said,

 “’The shale became a lifesaver and a lifeline for a lot of working families,’ said Dennis Martire, the mid-Atlantic regional manager for the Laborers’ International Union, or LIUNA, which represents workers in numerous construction trades. Martire said that as huge quantities of natural gas were extracted from the vast shale reserves over the last five years, union work on large pipeline jobs in Pennsylvania and West Virginia has increased significantly. In 2008, LIUNA members worked about 400,000 hours on such jobs; by 2012, that had risen to 5.7 million hours.” (emphasis added)

F&WW’s report is not about creating a better work environment – it’s unabashed anti-fracking talking points offer nothing constructive.  Meanwhile producers are doing something constructive by partnering with federal agencies and other experts to approach worker safety concerns proactively.

Again, any incident means there’s room for improvement and the industry’s goal is to get that number to zero.  But if we’re going to look at safety issues related to hydraulic fracturing, it’s much more useful to examine those issues in their proper context. That way we can assess relative risk, and actually have a constructive conversation about how to make sure we keep creating good opportunities for working families, while also continuing to enhance worker safety.

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