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Colo. Fracking Site Explosion Leaves 1 Dead, 2 Injured

An explosion at a Colorado fracking site has left one Halliburton employee dead and two seriously injured.

According to the Los Angeles Times, on Thursday, a frozen pipe burst at the site near Fort Lupton, Colorado, as workers were attempting to warm it. Of the three reported casualties of the explosion, one died at the scene, while two others were hospitalized and are "expected to survive."

How might this explosion have happened, and who could potentially be held liable?

High Pressure Water Valve Ruptured

When you hear "fracking" and "explosion," you may jump to the conclusion that this accident was somehow related to the natural gas or oil being extracted at the site. However, Sgt. Sean Stanridge of the Weld County Sheriff's Office noted that "[t]he death and injuries appeared to be caused by a high-pressure water valve that ruptured," reports The Denver Post.

Fracking is a process where highly pressurized water, in addition to chemicals and other solids, are injected into rock formations in order to crack them open to expose oil or natural gas. In this case, a high pressure water pipe was frozen by wintry temperatures at the Colorado site, while it was pressurized at near 2,500 and 3,500 pounds per square inch.

Within two hours of the incident, the Post reports that Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) investigators were notified. OSHA Area Director Herb Gibson confirmed "[t]wo investigators are at the Mead area site looking into the accident."

Potential Liability Questions

According to the Times, the site is operated by Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and the employees injured and killed were employed by Halliburton. As the investigation gets underway, many legal questions will need to be answered, such as:

  • Can the companies be held liable? Both Anadarko and Halliburton could potentially be held liable for the death and injuries related to Thursday's pipe rupture. In workplace explosion cases, companies are often faulted either for negligent instruction of their employees or for failure to properly maintain the site and its equipment.
  • Were reasonable measures taken? In a potential wrongful death lawsuit for the employee killed at the Colorado site, a jury might be asked whether it was reasonable for Halliburton to keep the pipes so highly pressurized while their crews attempted to defrost them, and whether standard procedure was followed by the employees themselves.
  • Is another company/party to blame? Both Anadarko and Halliburton may contend that the fracking site accident was actually due to a defective part -- for example, the water valve perhaps -- which could make the part's manufacturer liable.

As of Friday, no lawsuits have yet been filed, and OSHA investigators are still working to find the cause of the explosion.

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