A 47-year-old New Mexico man died earlier this month after an explosion at a natural-gas well site in southern La Plata County.
According to state records, Randy Yellowman was working as a contract truck driver for an oil and gas company, Denver-based Catamount Energy Partners LLC.
Yellowman was working alone at the well site at the time of the explosion, and authorities are still investigating the incident.
An initial investigation says the explosion occurred Jan. 2, likely in the morning. Yellowman wasn’t found until later in the day. It is unclear how he was discovered.
Lindsay Box, spokeswoman for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, said the tribe has “no comment at this time.”
David Nelson, area director for OSHA’s Englewood office, said Tuesday that OSHA is investigating Yellowman’s death. He would not provide more details.
The well site is about 22 miles southeast of Durango and about 6 miles west of Ignacio, on an unnamed road off County Road 318. It’s on private land on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation.
Yellowman was working for Farmington-based Overright Trucking Inc., which was contracted by Catamount Energy. Calls to Overright Trucking seeking comment for this story were not returned.
Rusty Kelly, senior vice president for Catamount Energy, wrote in an email to The Durango Herald it is “unclear at this time” what caused the explosion.
Initial information, though, indicates Yellowman was transferring produced water from one of the company’s water tanks to his truck when the explosion occurred, Kelly wrote.
Produced water is a by-product of natural-gas extraction.
“Catamount is committed to the safety of its employees and its contractors,” Kelly wrote. “We at Catamount express our heartfelt condolences to Mr. Yellowman’s family and co-workers at Overright.”
In Catamount Energy’s accident report to the state, produced water was spilled in the accident, likely because of a failure with the water tank. The cause of the water tank failure and how much produced water was spilled are unknown.
Catamount’s report to the state does not go into detail about the explosion.
On Jan. 3, investigators with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission conducted a site inspection and found no critical violations on the well pad. A review of the last inspection conducted at the well site in 2016 also found no major problems or critical violations.
Travis Duncan, spokesman for COGCC, wrote in an email that the commission is working with OSHA on the incident. He did not go into further detail about the circumstances that led to Yellowman’s death.
Attempts to reach Yellowman’s family were unsuccessful.
According to his obituary in the Farmington Daily-Times, published Jan. 11, Yellowman was born in Shiprock, and most recently was living in Nenahnezad, a community on the Navajo Nation between Farmington and Shiprock.
It is unclear how many fatalities there have been in La Plata County for workers in the oil and gas industry. The COGCC does not track oil and gas industry deaths in Colorado.
According to the Herald archives, a blast at a BP American Production Co.-owned gas compression station near Bayfield in 2012 killed one worker, Mancos resident Randy Mathews, and injured two others.
Nationwide, a total of 1,422 workers died from injuries in the oil and gas industry from 2003 to 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In 2017 alone, deaths in the oil and gas industry, as well as in mining and quarrying, increased 26 percent from the year before, with 112 deaths. Federal data show oil and gas accounted for more than 70 percent of these fatalities.
Catamount Energy started operating on the Colorado side of the San Juan Basin, which also spans into New Mexico, around 2016 after purchasing Elm Ridge Exploration Co.’s assets.
Kelly said the company operates 160 wells in Colorado.