Well Safety

West Virginians have long been aware of the dangers of coal mining. Much of what miners and their companies are required to do is focused on safety.

State and federal governments take the issue seriously.

Still, four men have been killed in coal mine accidents this year in West Virginia, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

But during the same period, four men were killed in natural gas well or pipeline accidents in Tyler and Doddridge counties. Far fewer people work in gas production than in mining, it should be noted.

The two fatalities from a July 7 Doddridge County explosion occurred at an Antero Resources well. Jason Mearns, 37, of Beverly, W.Va., and Tommy Paxton, 45, of Walton, W.Va., were subcontractors working on the well and died at Pittsburgh’s West Penn Hospital burn unit from injuries related to the explosion. Six other workers were injured in the blast.

Though the company has been ordered to take steps to make its well sites safer, state Department of Environmental Protection officials are not satisfied and called the company’s initial report “incomplete.” The agency is demanding more information before allowing Antero to reopen the well site.

That may reflect a growing concern about gas industry safety.

While no occupation – especially the jobs in the extraction fields – is entirely without risk, these recent injuries and deaths in the gas industry should prompt both state and federal officials to take a new and critical look at how companies operate. And if a company is operating in an unsafe manner, it should be shut down immediately.