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Subcontractor Killed By Heavy Equipment at Rice Energy Site in Ohio

A Texas man was crushed by a large piece of equipment and killed on Saturday at a Rice Energy Inc. drilling site in Belmont County, OH, where the company was preparing to commence completion operations at its first Utica Shale well.

David Zamora, 43, of Victoria, TX, was working for the Alberta-based subcontractor Lee Specialties Ltd., a wireline services company, as he was "placing a large piece of their equipment on an inactive side of the location prior to commencement of completion operations for the Bigfoot 9H well," in Smith Township, Rice said in a statement issued on Monday. No one else was injured.

The company did not specify what kind of equipment had crushed Zamora. Chief Deputy James Zusack of the Belmont County Sheriff's Department said he was also unclear about what kind of equipment killed Zamora, but said the incident had been ruled accidental. Zusack added that the death was Belmont County's first major Utica Shale-related accident.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends and co-workers of the individual that was fatally injured," said Mike Lauderbaugh, VP of environmental health and safety at Rice. "In our five years of operating safely in Appalachia, this is the first major incident to occur on a Rice Energy site and we are deeply saddened by this tragedy."

The company said operations at the well site have been temporarily suspended so that it and local authorities can conduct an investigation into the cause of the accident.

Rice's star has been rising in the Appalachian Basin since it went public in January, when it sold 50 million shares and netted $594.5 million in the process (see Shale Daily, Jan. 31, 2014).

The company holds 46,488 net acres in Ohio and plans to purchase more this year. It has only four permits to drill in the state, all located in Belmont County, in an area where operators are reporting improving results (see Shale Daily, Nov. 19, 2013). The Bigfoot 9H is the company's first Utica well and it was forced to begin drilling there last quarter after it ran into more gas and higher-than-expected pressures at the site of the nearby Bigfoot 7H, which it plugged and abandoned, company officials said during a conference call to discuss 4Q2013 earnings last month (see Shale Daily, March 13).

From 2003 to 2010, the latest period for which data exists, 823 oil and gas workers were killed nationwide in on-the-job accidents, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).  Saturday's accident was the Appalachian Basin's second development-related death in less than two months after a worker was killed in an explosion at a Chevron Appalachia LLC well site in Greene County, PA, on Feb. 11 (see Shale Daily, Feb. 18; Feb. 11).

Charlie Dixon, safety and workforce training administrator at the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program, said four oil and gas workers were killed in Ohio last year, two of which died in driving accidents.

"As an industry, we take safety very seriously and strive toward safe operations; it's pretty tragic anytime when we have to deal with something like this," Dixon said. "We saw some of the dangers with this gentleman who was crushed. When you look at drilling operations, we are dealing with tons of weight almost all the time."

Dixon added that the perils confronting oil and gas workers are no different than those confronting others in similar industries, such as construction. He said a number of programs, such as SafeLandUSA, Rig Pass and others sponsored by the industry offer workers an introduction to site safety in addition to the safety programs implemented by each exploration and production company.

Rice said Saturday's accident did not cause any environmental impacts and it added that the site shut-down was "self-imposed," saying that when operations resume they would be "conducted in the safest manner possible."

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