- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 29, 2015

LOVELAND, Colo. (AP) - A judge’s decision that the death of a Weld County oil and gas worker was caused by exposure to hydrocarbons could have major implications for the industry.

Federal health officials are taking a closer look at the dangers of “tank gauging,” the practice of measuring oil levels after opening a tank hatch, The Denver Post reported Wednesday (https://dpo.st/1OOpmZJ).

In the Weld County case, a 59-year-old truck driver died after he inhaled a mix of deadly hydrocarbon chemicals.

He was among nine oil field workers who died in the past five years while working at crude oil production tanks and measuring the level of oil or other byproducts in tanks.

A state judge ruled this month that the widow of the Weld County worker is owed full workman’s compensation benefits.

Jim Freemyer’s widow never believed her husband’s poor health abruptly killed him last summer, but, rather, what he encountered while working the Weld County oil patch.

The ruling by Administrative Law Judge Peter Cannici on behalf of Connie Freemyer came over the objections of Now or Never Trucking in Greeley - Jim Freemyer’s employer - and Pinnacol Assurance, which denied a claim for death benefits.

Connie Freemyer will receive nearly $530 per week until she dies. She will also get $7,000 to defray the cost of her husband’s funeral.

Pinnacol argued that Freemyer’s poorly controlled Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and coronary artery disease likely caused his demise, as did his lackluster attention to safety protocols.

Freemyer family attorney Brett Busch said the ruling may prompt the oil and gas industry to make changes to safeguard workers.

“I think the big picture here is not whether more claims will be brought,” he said, “but hopefully less claims will exist because of better safety protocol.”

Now or Never Trucking declined to comment.

Pinnacol spokeswoman Kim Singer said the company wants to make sure its policyholders are aware of safety resources available to them to address the issue of toxic fumes in gas gauging.

“We are sharing resources from … the Centers for Disease Control,” she said, “and our internal oil and gas safety expert is also developing materials.”

Last year, the family of a worker who died in North Dakota under similar circumstances was awarded death benefits in a ruling by that state’s Supreme Court.

Originally, all the workers were thought to have died from natural causes or because of underlying health problems, which meant work-related death benefits weren’t awarded.

The exposure happens when hatches on production tanks are opened manually and a plume of hydrocarbon gases and vapors are released under high pressure.

Those who are exposed can suffer from disorientation and, in some cases, sudden death.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a national warning in April over tank gauging.

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Information from: The Denver Post, https://www.denverpost.com


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