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Industrial Safety

Company operating failures led to deaths of husband and wife from hydrogen sulfide exposure

by Jeff Johnson, special to C&EN
May 27, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 20


Photo of two water storage tanks and a pump house.
Credit: US Chemical Safety Board
An Aghorn Operating worker and his wife died from hydrogen sulfide exposure at this oil-field water-recycling station.

The US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) places primary responsibility on Texas-based Aghorn Operating for failures that led to the death of an employee and his wife in 2019. The two died at an oil-field pumping station where water was recycled from oil operations and injected back underground to drive more oil to the surface. That water contained toxic hydrogen sulfide. The CSB’s May 21 report identified a host of failures by Aghorn, including equipment malfunctions, inadequate worker training, faulty facility design and procedures, and weak safety requirements and oversight. The worker responded to a pump malfunction alert and entered the pump house as it filled with toxic hydrogen sulfide. His wife followed hours later, when she arrived to check on her husband at the unsecured site while their young children waited in their car. The CSB notes that nearly 5,000 facilities in Texas operate using the same process to recycle and reinject water. For Aghorn, the CSB urges a lengthy list of equipment and safety improvements; for regulators, it advises issuing safety bulletins and promoting the board’s recommendations to encourage industry-wide safety.


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