OSHA Hazard Alert & Guidance on Hydraulic Fracturing Hazards
On December 10, 2014, OSHA issued two publications that confirm OSHA's jurisdiction over and increased interest in upstream oil and gas operations. First, OSHA issued a hazard alert that warns of worker exposures to silica in the air while performing certain hydraulic fracturing operations. Second, OSHA issued a guidance for hydraulic fracturing hazards other than silica. While the hazard alert and guidance provide helpful information and suggestions, they also gloss over the difference between current required standards, including the OSHA general duty clause, and recommendations. Also, some of the suggestions made by OSHA, such as applying fresh water to roads and around the well site to reduce dust, can create environmental issues that could subject you to DEP oversight. Moreover, the Hazard Alert does not discuss the different permissible exposure limit (PEL) and requirements for silica under the current construction versus general industry regulations, and therefore it might not be clear whether certain work performed at a well site comes under the construction standard or general industry standard. In light of these uncertainties, affected companies should be sure that they have performed requisite monitoring and employed appropriate engineering controls and work practices. (However, be aware that OSHA's silica standard is in flux. OSHA issued a proposed rule in 2013 that would impose a new PEL of 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an 8-hour day, for workers in all industries, but this rule is not yet final.) Also, in light of the guidance, companies should review their safety procedures for operations such as rig up and rig down, mixing and injection, and pressure pumping and flowback.