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Drilling injury lawsuit settled for $12 million

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A lawsuit was settled last week in Harrison County for $12 million against drilling companies after an incident left a worker paralyzed.

The lawsuit against Frontier Drilling and Antero Resources claimed unsafe working conditions at a job site in Salem.

Joseph Davenport sued over an incident that occurred in May 2011 while he was trying to repair the drill on the rig, according to Charleston attorney Bobby Warner, who represented him.

"They should've shut down the job and contacted a third party to come in and repair it. Obviously, that would have caused the job to be shut down and they're under pressure to keep things moving," Warner said. "[Davenport] was directed by a supervisor to basically perform a very unsafe task in an attempt to fix the broken part of the drill."

The tools designed for the task were worn out and broken, according to the complaint filed in Harrison Circuit Court.

Pressure placed on a drilling device known as a "power tong," which Davenport was forced to use, began to whip rapidly, striking him in the chest and throwing him into the rig, Warner said. "That's what snapped his spinal column," the lawyer said.

Davenport was originally diagnosed as a quadriplegic. He is still considered a paraplegic but is now able to walk with the assistance of leg braces and crutches, Warner said.

Representatives of Frontier and Antero could not be reached for comment late Monday.

During a deposition, Jason Ware, a safety coordinator with Antero, according to transcripts, said that in the 36 months he had worked at the rig, 25 to 30 work-related accidents occurred that resulted in broken bones or surgeries, not counting stitches.

"Antero continues to have a very bad track record of having unsafe workplace conditions resulting in too many men being severely injured," Warner said Monday.

At least five workers were hospitalized earlier this month following an explosion at an Antero natural gas well in Doddridge County.

Antero Resources owns at least 399 wells in Doddridge, Harrison, Ritchie, Tyler and Upshur counties, according to a 2012 Department of Environmental Protection database. The database lists 141 of those wells as being actively drilled; however, because the database is incomplete, that number is likely higher.

Antero has had safety problems in the past. Last August a spark at an Antero-owned well in Harrison County ignited methane gas several hundred feet underground, causing a fireball and a fire that burned for about an hour. Three workers were injured in that fire.

The DEP cited Antero for failure to maintain well control for that incident.

The DEP has cited Antero for 17 violations of state law in the past three years. Those have been primarily environmental violations -- for things like failing to prevent waste runoff, failure to report discharges and contaminating waterways.

One violation, from Jan. 4, 2013, warned, "Imminent danger water supplys threatened by allowing pollutants to escape and flow into the waters of the state."

In June 2012, Antero was drilling using water in Harrison County when they accidentally repressurized some old water wells, causing several geysers, one about 10 feet high, that flooded one nearby home and several garages.

In March 2011, state regulators shut down an Antero gas well in Harrison County after mud contaminated with drilling chemicals spilled into a nearby stream.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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