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State investigates death of oilfield worker reportedly struck by pipe

  • Author: Alex DeMarban
  • Updated: December 12, 2018
  • Published December 11, 2018

State agencies and oil field companies are investigating the death of a worker killed Friday in a “pipe mishandling incident” at a North Slope field operated by Hilcorp Alaska, according to a state official.

New but limited details emerged Tuesday about the early-morning fatality at Milne Point field.

Hilcorp, a company that has previously come under investigation for multiple safety violations, and contractor Kuukpik Drilling, the worker’s employer, declined to provide information about the accident while the case is under investigation.

“It’s a pretty emotional time for all of us,” said Kenny Overvold, general manager of Kuukpik Drilling, with about 50 employees.

He said the companies are conducting internal investigations and cooperating with agencies.

“At this point we don’t have anything new to release," he said.

Claire Pywell, with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, said the fatality occurred at 3 a.m. Friday.

An investigator with the Alaska Occupational Safety and Health office flew to the scene Friday, she said.

The victim’s name has not been released, a step awaiting family notification procedures, Pywell said.

Hollis French, chairman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said he spoke with Dave Wilkins, senior vice president of Hilcorp Alaska, on Friday.

Wilkins characterized the death as resulting from a “pipe mishandling incident,” according to French.

The worker was struck by heavy drilling pipe, French said.

“It looks like a piece of pipe was mishandled on the rig floor,” French said.

“They were laying down pipe,” he said, requiring sections of pipe to be moved during a drilling operation.

Hilcorp spokeswoman Lori Nelson provided a statement Tuesday that said "the cause of the incident is not known.”

“We are deeply saddened by this news and our thoughts and prayers with their family and loved ones,” the statement said.

Kenai radio station KSRM reported the incident Friday, noting that drilling operations were suspended following the fatality.

French said the AOGCC is monitoring the investigation and will review details when it’s complete, he said.

The incident does not appear to be a violation of AOGCC procedures, he said.

In an earlier incident at Milne Point in 2015, the agency investigated the near-suffocation of three contractors for Hilcorp that improperly used nitrogen gas during a well clean-out, forcing oxygen to be displaced from a trailer where the men were working.

That led to a $200,000 fine from the agency. It also prompted a close look at Hilcorp missteps at its operations in Alaska, said French.

AOGCC later released a lengthy list of Hilcorp violations dating back to 2012, not long after the Houston, Texas-based company began operating in Alaska.

But AOGCC later credited the company for taking steps to prevent future problems. The improvements included the company’s Cook Inlet operations, after one of its sub-sea natural gas pipelines leaked for months before sea ice cleared enough for divers to safely repair it in spring 2017.

In October, Hilcorp completed a $90 million project to move oil across the Inlet by subsea pipe instead of tankers, a step long sought by watchdog groups.