Given the fact that my office is in the heart of the Marcellus Shale gas fields in Northeast Pennsylvania, my firm has seen a huge increase in the amount of workers who have been injured while working at the gas drilling sites and/or working for the gas industry in other capacities, such as water tanker drivers, welders and general laborers. These gas industry cases have some unique issues that arise given the type of work performed and the type and location of employer.
1. One of the more common questions that arise is which state’s workers’ compensation law should apply? You would think that this would not be an issue since the injured worker was injured while working in Pennsylvania. And that is what Pennsylvania’s law calls for—if you are injured in PA then PA workers’ compensation law applies. But what I have been seeing in some cases is the employer attempting to apply the law of the state in which the employer is from. Many of the businesses that work in the gas fields are not based out of Pennsylvania, but are based out of states like Oklahoma, Texas and Tennessee, to name a few. For example, one of the largest gas companies working in this area, Chesapeake Energy, has corporate headquarters in Oklahoma City.
In many instances, these employers argue that the employee was actually hired in the other state and is thus subject to that state’s workers’ compensation laws. Once again, this is not accurate. In these cases, it does not matter where the employee was actually hired because once the injury occurs in Pennsylvania then that’s the state that will apply. Pennsylvania has one of the strongest workers’ compensation laws in the nation.
2. The second issue that I often see in these cases is injured workers fearful of actually reporting work injuries due to the threat of losing one’s job and being sent packing. Of course, this fear is prevalent in most industries, but it appears to be a big problem in the gas industry. One of the issues is that a lot of the workers are from out of state and they are paid a significant amount of money at these jobs. The idea is that if they “rock the boat” and complain about a work injury, then they will be sent back home and would be “blacklisted” and never be able to work again at a gas drilling site.
3. The most important issue, in my opinion, is that it’s dangerous work! I have seen many more fatalities in this industry than in any other type of industry in which I represent injured workers. There are more fatalities in the Marcellus Shale gas industry than even long haul truck drivers who are subject to truck crashes every day. It seems that at least once a month there is a newspaper article about the death of another gas worker. Just this week, in Potter County, a worker who was walking on a pipeline was struck by a truck and suffered a fatal injury. At this point I cannot tell if it is just dangerous work by nature or a significant lack of safety procedures on the drill sites. It is probably a combination of both, however.
If you are a gas industry worker and have been injured, please talk to an experienced workers’ compensation attorney before you sign anything for your employer.