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How Common Are Oil Field Explosions?

Oil field explosions, whether onshore or offshore, are terrible accidents. Once the explosion happens, it is almost impossible to control the reaction. There’s also a high likelihood of fatality or catastrophic damage.

Luckily, oil field explosions that result in human causalities do not happen often. Bad weather and high seas cause far more deaths offshore. Even traffic accidents cause more injuries than explosions do at onshore drilling sites. 

The scarcity of explosions that result in loss of life is fortunate and demonstrates the increased knowledge of how to prevent them. However, any loss of life is a tragedy.

Explosions Leading to Loss of Life

When large explosions happen, they appear as headlines on the news and become topics of conversation for many people. 

In 2018, a gas well exploded in the Oklahoma oil fields, killing five people. This was called the deadliest drilling accident since 2010. Yet, it was preventable. The crew had turned the alarms off, and the system had inadequate drilling mud.

In 2010, an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon killed 11 people and seriously injured 17 more. The operation had a pattern of not adequately inspecting and maintaining equipment, which caused the explosion after the blowout preventer’s failure. The well-documented and public incident caused a massive oil leak, leading to incredible ecosystem damage and loss of wildlife.

Explosions Causing Harm

Any loss of life is too much. In 2021, explosions harmed four offshore oil workers. In 2020, reported explosions only harmed one. There is only about one offshore explosion per year by the official counts. However, onshore oil workers have a different count. 

As we look closer, the numbers seem to get larger. An academic study in 2017 found 116 oil and gas explosions and fires from 2006-2015 in Colorado alone. Colorado has 53,000 oil and gas wells. However, the authors believed companies did not report all of the explosions and fires. People are only required to report when harm is caused “to a member of the general public which requires medical treatment” or “significant damage to equipment or well site.”

In 2011 alone, 1400 workers were injured while developing and operating oil and gas fields. An additional 8,500 support facility workers were injured on the job. Most of these were motor vehicle crashes, but a good number were explosions

How Do Oil Rig Explosions Occur?

Oil rig explosions occur when oil or gas comes into contact with a spark. On an oil rig, there are a lot of opportunities for this to happen. To stop them from occurring, there are various rules and safety checks. We can see success in the low number of large explosions today. Still, every explosion that harms someone is a failure. And every person harmed needs compensation for their injuries. 

When Does Oil or Gas Leak Out?

The first ingredient needed for an explosion is oil or gas leak. Today’s systems have fail-safes that rely on humans regularly checking the system.

  • Blowouts (uncontrolled releases) – Today, pressure gauges keep blowouts under control. These give a warning before a blowout happens. 
  • Equipment failure – Not receiving a warning results from equipment failure. 
  • Negligence – With all the valves and gauges to check, it’s easy to miss one, especially at the end of a long shift. Negligence happens more often than anyone would like. 

Without having a human check the system to see that the alarm, gauge, drilling mud, or other part of the system is as it should be, blowouts or other failures can happen.

When Do Sparks Happen?

When any loose oil or gas on the rig connects to the main body of the oil or gas being drilled, a small spark can lead to a colossal explosion. A spark from a cigarette lighter can cause an entire well to combust. Some of the leading causes of sparks on an oil rig are:

  • Lightning
  • Kitchen fires
  • Smoking
  • Electricity
  • Welding, cutting, and other metalwork

A spark without a leak is no problem. It will die off on its own without fuel. But if it reaches a bit of fuel, it can start a chain reaction that leads to an explosion. Some of these sparks — like welding and electricity — are necessary for operating an oil or gas rig.

What Types of Injuries Can Occur in an Oil Rig Explosion?

There are fewer deaths from oil rig explosions since safety has become a more significant concern. Improved procedures lessen the risk of explosion and the types of injuries. However, oil rig work is still some of the most dangerous work on the planet. Workers run the risk of:

  • Death
  • Loss of Limb
  • Burns
  • Internal Bleeding and organ damage
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Spinal cord injury with paralysis
  • Lesser injuries

Most injuries from explosions are to the extremities, feet, and hands. However, many serious injuries to any part of the body are possible. 

Explosions on an oil rig are scary incidents. If you or a loved one have been injured by an oil rig explosion, seek a law firm with experience working for plaintiffs in oil field cases. Morris and Dewett can help you gain compensation for your injuries. 


Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. “Offshore incident statistics.” https://www.bsee.gov/stats-facts/offshore-incident-statistics

Cotton, Anthony. “New Study Looks At Frequency Of Oil And Gas Explosions In Colorado”. Colorado Public Radio. June 2, 2017. https://www.cpr.org/show-segment/new-study-looks-at-frequency-of-oil-and-gas-explosions-in-colorado/

Cuevas, Mayra. “Five oil rig workers found dead after gas well explosion in Oklahoma”. CNN. Jan. 23, 2018. https://www.cnn.com/2018/01/23/us/oklahoma-gas-well-victims/index.html

N/A. “The world’s worst offshore oil rig disasters”. Offshore Technology. June 1, 2019.


Lee, Mike, “Feds: Deadliest drilling accident in a decade ‘preventable’” Energywire. June 13, 2019. https://www.eenews.net/articles/feds-deadliest-drilling-accident-in-a-decade-preventable/

United States Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Fatal and nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses in the oil and gas industry. Washington, DC: Apr 15, 2014. [Accessed April 25, 2017]. Available at: https://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/cfoi/osar0018.htm.

Urban, Dakota M. Kans J Med. 2018 May; 11(2): 34–37. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5962317/

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