Frack Sand commonly used in Hydraulic Fracking
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued an alert on Friday to protecting workers at drilling sites with hydraulic fracturing operations. Hydraulic fracturing involves blasting rock with water, sand and chemicals to extract the valuable oil and natural gas. Part of the sand is a silica component that OSHA says poses a risk of silicosis, a “lung disease where lung tissue around trapped silica particles reacts, causing inflammation and scarring and reducing the lungs’ ability to take in oxygen.” They also indicate silica is linked to lung cancer and tuberculosis.
A hazard alert they issued Thursday describes how engineering controls, work practices, protective equipment, worker training and product substitution can protect employees. In cooperation with oil and gas industry partners, NIOSH collected 116 full shift air samples at 11 hydraulic fracturing sites in five states (Arkansas, Colorado, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Texas) to determine the levels of worker exposure to silica at various jobs at the worksites. Many air samples showed silica levels for workers in and around the dust generation points above defined occupational exposure limits.
Given the Bakken region uses predominantly hydrauling fracking as part of the extraction process, this could have an effect on drillers in the region if the media takes hold of this report. Thus far, Fracking concerns have not slowed North Dakota oil production at risk as it is the current (and possibly only) lifeblood of the state economy. We don’t see a short term impact for O&G companies in the region, but there is a possibility that sand/silica producers like US Silica (USCA: 0.00 N/A) could get hit as the negative sentiment swirls. We will be tracking this story closely in the coming weeks to determine the impact on Bakken drillers.