By Monte Whaley – The Denver Post – May 18, 2015
Joe Ray Sherman’s death on a Weld County oil patch last year was tragic but not entirely unexpected.
The 51-year-old was diabetic and suffered heart problems. The native Texan moved to Colorado 20 years ago in hopes that the clear, mountain air would get him healthier.
The Weld County coroner confirmed what many believed, ruling his death while servicing one of the county’s oil wells was caused by heart disease.
But his March 2014 death soon became part of a mysterious puzzle that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is piecing together along with eight other oil field deaths over the past five years.
All of the fatalities occurred at crude oil production tanks, and all the victims were either working alone or weren’t being observed by anyone. Most of the death certificates listed natural causes or heart failure as the cause.
Three of the deaths were in Colorado, three more in North Dakota and one each in Texas, Oklahoma and Montana.
By late April, federal health officials had enough evidence to sound a national alarm over a dangerous trend in America’s oil fields. The men died after inhaling toxic amounts of hydrocarbon chemicals after either tank gauging — measuring the level of oil or other byproducts in tanks coming out of wells — or from taking samples of oil for more testing.