Black Gold, the Danger of Drilling for Oil in the Lone Star State

Richard McNitzky
December 12, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2017


Fig. 1: Oil Drill in Texas. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Known as black gold, the oil industry in Texas happens to be one of the biggest sources of wealth for the United States. However, with the lucrative reward comes a risk equally large. The industry is known for its dangers from chronic causing cancer agents to explosions, this job is not for the faint of heart by any means, and as a result pays a pretty penny if you are willing to risk it all. While drilling for oil can be dangerous anywhere, focusing on Texas is logical being that Texas accounts for 40% of U.S. Oil Field Deaths. Drilling in Texas can cover a small ranch shown in figure one, or an oil rig hundreds of miles off the shore of the Gulf of Mexico. Believe it or not studies have found that a worker is actually safer hundreds of miles into the sea opposed to onshore rigs as will be discussed later. [1]

The Problem

Why Texas? Upon further research, it was found that there are less than one hundred employees in the OSHA oil and gas field within Texas. Of those few workers, they hardly have any specialty training when dealing with oil and equipment. As a result the regulations around drilling seem to be undermined, and struggle to get enforced. Studies found that onshore drilling is even more of a wild west than offshore due to fewer regulations, especially those regarding equipment. The gear used when drilling for oil onshore was found to be years outdated, and not recently inspected. Even if these hazards are realized by these inspectors, they do not have the ability to shut down an oil field if workers lives are threatened. The industry deems that it is an assumed risk that you are working in a dangerous environment as an oil field worker. From being crushed, impaled, and set on fire, the United States health hazard board has simply concluded that being an oil worker one of the most dangerous jobs in America. [1]


With very few regulations in place it is easy to see the risks that workers accept when working on an oil rig in Texas. The problem has been a pressing topic for many years, however; beyond acknowledging it, not much has been done. As the death toll continues to peak, one must ask when a change will be made. Until then, this industry seems to be a reminder of the wild west this state once was. [2]

© Richard McNitzky. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] L. Olsen, "Oil Field Deaths Rose Sharply Rrom 2008 to 2012," Houston Chronicle, 27 Apr 14.

[2] T. L. Thomas et al., "Mortality Patterns Among Workers in Three Texas Oil Refineries," J. Occup. Environ. Med. 24, 135 (1982).