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West Virginia Forms Commission to Enhance Oil/Gas Industry Safety

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin issued an executive order on Thursday to establish a 14-member commission to focus on workplace safety in the oil and natural gas industry. The move follows a spike in fatal accidents at drilling and other related sites in the state over the last decade.

Tomblin announced his intent to form the commission during his "State of the State" address in January, saying workforce safety in the oil and gas industry must be a top priority as development in the state's Marcellus Shale continues.

"For generations, West Virginia has been one of our nation's leading energy producing states," he told lawmakers at the time. "As we continue to explore opportunities to diversify our state's energy portfolio, we must ensure the safety of hard working West Virginians at drilling sites, production facilities and pipelines across the state."

The commission includes secretaries from the Departments of Environmental Protection, Commerce, Transportation, and Military Affairs and Public Safety. It also includes 10 members from the oil and gas industry, labor organizations and the state legislature.  The commission is expected to review current federal and state oil and natural gas workplace safety regulations and provide recommendations for how to improve them. A report is due by Nov. 16.

Between 2008 and 2012, 13 employees in the state's oil and gas industry died, or more than double the five who died in industry accidents between 2004 and 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Most Recently, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited a contractor that worked at an Antero Resources Corp. well site in Tyler County where a worker was killed last year when he was struck by a front-end loader (see Shale DailyJune 2).

"The commission will help us determine how to best protect workers at natural gas operations while ensuring our workers have the proper training and skills to do their jobs in the safest, most effective way possible," Tomblin said Thursday.

The governor or his designee is expected to chair the committee.

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