Месечни архиви: February 2015

2014 Workers’ Compensation Rates Ranked by State

2014 Workers’ Compensation Rates Ranked by State

The median index rate for workers’ compensation insurance fell to an all-time low in 2014 to $1.85 per $100 of payroll.

Index rates in 2014 varied from a low of $0.88 in North Dakota to a high of $3.48 in California, according to the 2014 Oregon Workers’ Compensation Premium Rate Ranking report.

The study, which the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services conducts every two years, looks at workers’ compensation rates for a mix of industries in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia.

For 2014 rates, California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Alaska and Oklahoma ranked the highest, while North Dakota, Indiana, Arkansas, Virginia, Massachusetts and Nevada were the lowest and well under the median.

The report includes data showing premium level changes by state from 2010 to 2014. About three-fifths of the states that report premium level changes to the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) had a net rate decrease over the five-year period from Jan. 1, 2010, to approximately May 2014. Montana (-39.1 percent), Kentucky (-30.65 percent) and West Virginia (-25.4 percent) had the biggest drops, while Delaware (52.3 percent), New York (24.2 percent) and Connecticut (21.4 percent) saw the biggest increases for the period.

The report also compares maximum, median and minimum rates for 2016 through 2014;  ranks 2014 premiums by class and other data.

The complete and final study, reported on last October by Insurance Journal, has now been released by Oregon.

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Ullico Increases Fiduciary Liability Limits to 25 Million

Ullico Increases Fiduciary Liability Limits to 25 Million

Ullico Inc.’s property and casualty insurance subsidiary, Ullico Casualty Group, Inc., may offer up to $25 million in multiemployer fiduciary liability insurance in its program with Alterra America Insurance Co., a Markel company. The $10 million increase in coverage is now available as excess to the fiduciary liability primary form.

As multiemployer funds face new pressures from regulatory bodies or confront increased funding challenges, trustees may need higher limits to account for these greater exposures. Ullico Casualty Group can personal liability more extensively and will also allow Ullico Casualty Group to underwrite larger, national benefit funds though one insurance program.

According to William K. Cavanagh, president of Ullico Casualty Group, the company’s professional liability retained over 96 percent of its business in 2014, wrote over $5.1 million in new business, and effectively managed loss ratios.

“We have proven ourselves to Alterra America and Markel, two strong and respectable companies, so we may further develop our alliance,” he said.

Policy highlights include a “duty to defend” policy form with the policyholder’s right to select counsel, broad definitions of insured and wrongful act, and coverage for fiduciary exposures.  Other professional liability products from Ullico Casualty Group include union liability insurance and governmental fiduciary liability insurance.  Coverage provided by Alterra America Insurance Co., a Markel company.




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Feds Say Speed Not a Factor in West Virginia Oil Train Crash

Feds Say Speed Not a Factor in West Virginia Oil Train Crash

Speed doesn’t appear to have been a factor in an oil-train derailment in southern West Virginia, a federal transportation official said Thursday.

The CSX train was going 33 mph at the time of the crash on Feb. 16 in the town of Mount Carbon. The speed limit was 50 mph, said Federal Railroad Administration acting administrator Sarah Feinberg.

“We can see from event recorders that the train was traveling below speed limit and starting to accelerate at time of derailment,” Feinberg said.

The train had gone through the town of Montgomery minutes earlier where the speed limit was 30 mph, she said.

The derailment shot fireballs into the sky, destroyed a house, leaked oil into a Kanawha River tributary and forced nearby water treatment plants to temporarily shut down. The owner of the destroyed home was treated for smoke inhalation. No other injuries were reported.

The cause remains unknown. Investigators had reviewed video from cameras on the front and rear of the locomotives as well as a train coming from the opposite direction. But the footage showed nothing significant.

“You can clearly see and hear where the derailment takes place,” Feinberg said.

Twenty-seven of the 107 tank cars derailed, and 19 of those were involved in the fires, which continued smoldering through the weekend.

The small fires have prevented investigators from gaining full access to the crash scene. Feinberg said it might be necessary to use a dry chemical to douse the fires, out of worry that using water or spray foam would wash oil into the river.

Robert C. Lauby, the railroad agency’s chief safety officer, said oil must first be pumped out of damaged tank cars before they can be removed – a process slowed by weather-frozen hoses and pumps.

No rail cars entered the river and no oil has been detected in river water samples, according to a joint statement from several agencies that have responded to the derailment. Water treatment systems were brought back online Tuesday, and a boil-water advisory for area residents expired Thursday.

Amtrak, whose Chicago-to-New York Cardinal route travels along the same tracks where the derailment occurred, has been told by CSX that the tracks won’t reopen until early this week, said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari in Chicago.

The CSX train was bound for an oil-shipping depot in Yorktown, Virginia, along the same route where three tank cars plunged into the James River in Lynchburg, Virginia, last year, prompting an evacuation.

“We at the Department of Transportation and in the administration understand the gravity of this issue,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told The Associated Press on Thursday.

That’s why the department chose to craft a rule that not only deals with the question of tank car design, but also with operational issues that could prevent accidents, such as lower speeds and better braking and emergency response after an accident occurs, he said.

“It’s an approach that pushes the country forward on all fronts,” Foxx said.

The department finished drafting final rules and sent them to the White House budget office earlier this month. The budget office is supposed to complete reviews of regulations within 120 days, but often takes many months longer. Federal officials are prohibited from publicly discussing the details of the proposals until the rules are made final.

Some of these measures would cost billions more and have been strongly opposed by the oil and rail industries.


Associated Press writers Joan Lowy in Durham, North Carolina, and Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2015 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Duke Energy Faces Federal Charges from Illegal Pollution at 5 North Carolina Plants

Duke Energy Faces Federal Charges from Illegal Pollution at 5 North Carolina Plants

Federal prosecutors filed multiple criminal charges against Duke Energy on Friday over years of illegal pollution leaking from coal ash dumps at five North Carolina power plants.

The three U.S. Attorney’s Offices covering the state charged Duke with nine misdemeanor counts involving violations of the Clean Water Act. The prosecutors say the nation’s largest electricity company engaged in unlawful dumping at coal-fired power plants in Eden, Moncure, Asheville, Goldsboro and Mt. Holly.

Duke said Friday in statements and court filings that it has already negotiated a plea agreement under which it will admit guilt and pay $102 million in fines, restitution and community service. The company said the costs of the settlement will be borne by its shareholders, not passed on to its electricity customers.

The investigation into Duke began last February after a pipe collapsed under a coal ash dump at the Eden plant, coating 70 miles of the Dan River in gray sludge. However, prosecutors allege in court filings that Duke’s illegal dumping had been going back for years, to at least 2010.

“We are accountable for what happened at Dan River and have learned from this event,” said Lynn Good, Duke’s president and CEO. “Our highest priorities are safe operations and the well-being of the people and communities we serve.”

The separate cases will be consolidated under the jurisdiction of the U.S. District Court in Raleigh. Any proposed settlement in the case would be subject to approval by a judge.

Environmental groups on Friday hailed the charges as vindication for their years of efforts to get regulators to hold Duke accountable for the pollution leaking from coal ash dumps at 14 power plants scattered across the state. The ash, which is the waste left behind when coal is burned to generate electricity, contains such toxic heavy metals as arsenic, selenium, chromium and mercury.

“It’s not just a slap on the wrist,” said Kemp Burdette, of Cape Fear River Watch. “A $100 million fine is a significant one. It confirms what we’ve been saying all along. It’s good to finally have somebody say, ‘You’re right. Duke was illegally polluting waterways across North Carolina and it was criminal. It wasn’t an accident.”’

The Associated Press reported last year that environmental groups tried three times in 2013 to sue Duke under the Clean Water Act to force the company to clean up its leaky coal ash dumps. The groups said they were forced to sue after North Carolina regulators failed to act on evidence conservationists gathered of ongoing groundwater contamination at Duke’s dumps.

But each time, N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources blocked the citizen lawsuits by intervening at the last minute to assert its own authority under the act to take enforcement action in state court.

The administration of Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican who worked at Duke for 29 years, then proposed what environmentalists derided as a “sweetheart deal” under which the Charlotte-based company worth more than $50 billion would have paid fines of just $99,111 to settle violations over toxic groundwater leeching from two of its plants. That agreement, which included no requirement that Duke immediately stop or clean up the pollution, was pulled amid intense criticism after the Dan River spill.

Drew Elliot, spokesman for the state environmental agency, said regulators had acted appropriately since McCrory took office and pointed to the Republican governor’s Democratic predecessors.

“We had taken more action than anyone in North Carolina history had taken,” Elliot said. “I won’t be able to answer questions about the (former Gov.) Beverly Perdue Administration, or the (former Gov. Mike) Easley Administration.”

Duke adamantly denied any wrongdoing for years. But in December, the company conceded in regulatory filings that it had identified about 200 leaks and seeps at its 32 coal ash dumps statewide that together ooze out more than 3 million gallons of contaminated wastewater each day.

A new state law passed in August requires Duke to either clean up or permanently cap all of its ash dumps in North Carolina by 2029.

Jim Cooney, a Charlotte lawyer representing Duke in the criminal case, said the details of the company’s plea agreement with prosecutors won’t be made public until a court hearing is held sometime in the coming weeks.

Regardless of the precise terms, environmentalists said the amount Duke will be required to pay signals the company’s culpability.

“Anybody who agrees to pay $100 million is confirming that they did something wrong,” said Frank Holleman, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Duke Energy cannot buy its way out of its coal ash scandal. It has to clean its way out.”


Weiss reported from Greenville, S.C.

Copyright 2015 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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NH Lawmakers Work to Tackle High Workers’ Comp Costs

NH Lawmakers Work to Tackle High Workers’ Comp Costs

If a worker in New Hampshire gets hurt on the job, an anesthetic injection can cost $763 under a workers’ compensation claim, compared to $298 for non-work related injuries. Surgical treatment for tendinitis in the shoulder costs about $2,200 if the injury happened at work, compared to $768 for other claims, according to data from the New Hampshire Insurance Department.

There is near universal agreement from politicians, doctors and businesses that New Hampshire’s workers’ compensation prices are too high. From the construction industry to ski resorts, business owners say the high costs make them think twice about expanding.

But efforts to fix prices through a fee schedule or control prescription drug costs have made little progress since 2006, and lawmakers are seeking to tackle the issue once and for all this session.

“It is undeniably clear that New Hampshire workers’ compensation medical costs are out of line with those in the region and nation, and that those excessive costs are affecting businesses in the Granite State,” Insurance Commissioner Roger Sevigny wrote in the final report of a commission created by Gov. Maggie Hassan last fall to study workers’ compensation costs. “We cannot afford to do nothing.”

New Hampshire has the 12th highest premium costs nationally, according to the Oregon Workers’ Compensation Premium Rate Ranking. The average medical cost per claim in New Hampshire is $34,000, higher than most of New England, according to the National Council on Compensation Insurance.

The majority of Hassan’s commission said New Hampshire lacks enough clear data to understand why its costs are so high and how they really compare nationally. The NCCI, for example, doesn’t include data for self-insured groups, which make up a significant portion of coverage. Ten of 15 commission members recommended creating a better data system and the commission unanimously recommended adopting a pharmacy benefit management program to bring down prescription drug costs.

Groups Seek Medical Fee Schedule

But a coalition of 22 business groups, led by the self-insuring New Hampshire Automobile Dealers Association, wants the state to adopt a medical fee schedule, which caps how much doctors can charge to care for on-the-job injuries. Forty-four other states have such a schedule, and data from the NCCI shows fee schedules have been effective at controlling costs.

Doctors, hospitals and workers say setting fixed prices could diminish care. They say handling workers’ compensation claims takes more time and resources, including employees dedicated just to that task. With a cap on prices, some doctors might stop seeing workers’ compensation patients altogether. Most insurers have contracts with doctors that allow for some negotiation, but state law says insurers must pay for 100 percent of all costs, no matter how high they are.

“People are going to pick sides, and they’ll either pick the doctors or they’ll pick — for lack of a better term — the auto dealers’ side,” said Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley. “I think senators are looking for a compromise.”

Employers reported nearly 39,000 work injuries to the Department of Labor in 2013, and roughly 3,500 of those who got hurt missed at least four days of work. All employers are required to provide workers’ compensation. In New Hampshire, medical costs make up 70 percent of average workers’ compensation expenses. Out-of-work expenses including a reduced salary make up the balance.

A fee schedule is the direction Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate are moving toward. One proposal on the table would set a fee schedule that caps charges at 150 percent of the Medicare reimbursement rate. Thirteen senators, including Democrats and Republicans, back the bill.

Gary Woods, former chairman of a workers’ compensation advisory committee and an orthopedic surgeon, doesn’t oppose a fee schedule but said better data is needed to make it fair.

“If we’re going to do it, let’s do it right,” he said.

Bradley proposes giving providers two years to trim costs by 15 percent or the state will impose a fee schedule. Doctors and businesses haven’t flat-out rejected this approach, Bradley said, but it will take work to figure out the right benchmarks for measuring the cost reductions.

“I have said to everybody you probably won’t like me very much when this is done,” Bradley said. “But I’m trying to bring you something that’s reasonable.”

Related Articles:

Report Calls for More Study of N.H. Workers’ Comp Costs
N.H. Workers’ Comp Commission Holds Its 1st Meeting
New Hampshire Gov. Hassan Creates Workers’ Compensation Commission


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Sophisticated Resilience Model in Development in Colorado – And It’ll be Free

Sophisticated Resilience Model in Development in Colorado – And It’ll be Free

Efforts are underway in Colorado to build a sophisticated computer model that will offer a look down to the minute details at just how communities may withstand – or crumble under – perils like earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis and other catastrophic risks.

Those in charge of the project say it will yield the world’s most sophisticated model for forecasting community resilience when it’s completed in five years.

And it will be free to anyone who wants to use it.

Backed by a $20 million grant announced this week from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Community Resilience Center of Excellence is being established at Colorado State University.

catastrophe model revisionsThe grant for the Fort Collins-based center is for $4 million annually over five years.

That funding will enable a team of roughly 60 NIST researchers and partners from 10 universities to develop computer tools to help local governments decide how each can best invest resources intended to lessen the impact of extreme weather and other hazards on buildings and infrastructure and to recover rapidly in their aftermath, according to John Van de Lindt, the center’s principal investigator and co-director.

The focus of the center’s effort is NIST-CORE. That sands for the National Institute of Standards and Technology – Community Resilience Modeling Environment.

The goal is for the computer model and associated software and databases to be capable of mechanistic modeling – a modeling method that examines a complex system though the workings of its individual parts and the manner in which they are coupled.

Unlike catastrophe models used by the insurance industry that rely on historical data and are focused on calculating the probability of losses, NIST-CORE is a physics-based program that will help researchers look into the details of what occurs in a disaster from the larger perspective of how an entire community fares down to how an individual wall in a home behaves, said Van de Lindt, who is a professor of civil and environmental engineering for Colorado State.

For example, the model will enable researchers to take a wall and push it to extremes, watching it deform as if during an earthquake. Researchers will measure the wall’s behavior – how it flexes and strains – and  they will record that behavior to determine with how much force the wall pushed back with, how it reacted when ever-greater force was applied and what was left of the wall after its breaking point.

“What we’re concerned with is ‘What was the behavior?’” said Van de Lindt, as he spoke on his cellphone while speedily returning to the university to stay ahead of oncoming snow storm that was creeping into the area on Friday evening. “We’re really getting down to the details of the underlying physics of the process.”

The model they plan on developing over the next five years will enable researchers to tie the interdependencies of the aforementioned wall to its structure, and then even tie that structure to the larger community, eventually enabling communities to make the best business decisions about where and how to use their resources to be more resilient, according to Van de Lindt.

“There’s no model like NIST-CORE yet,” he said. “There’s nothing like it on Earth.”

NIST-CORE is literally in its embryonic stage. It is being built on the open-source framework from existing software used by the Mid-America Earthquake Center in Illinois, called MAEviz, a highly sophisticated piece of risk analysis software.

A team of software developers and engineers will use MAEviz as a base for building a computational modeling environment that when completed will be able take a look at any community and offer important details on its resilience to every peril known, Van de Lindt said.

“We’re going to do it for wildfires, we’re going to do it for earthquakes, we’re going to do it for tornadoes, we’re going to do if for tsunamis,” he said. “If it’s a hazard, we’ll do it.”

Already working on NIST-CORE is a team of 31 researchers, and they are in the process of adding 20 to 25 students and post-doctoral candidates from the 10 universities involved in the project.

To help create their model researchers will use a computer at University of Illinois called Blue Waters, which is considered one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world. Blue Waters can reportedly achieve peak performance of more than 13 quadrillion calculations per second.

When built out NIST-CORE not only will provide the scientific basis for developing more resilient communities, it will integrate into these tools considerations for social systems that are vital to the functioning and recovery of communities — healthcare delivery, education, social services, financial institutions.

Van de Lindt, speaking like the proud father of a budding prodigy, also noted that NIST-CORE will be able to learn from one analysis to the next, a capability that does not exist in any other risk or disaster-resilience model in the world.

Initially the model will be primarily a research tool to be used solely by engineers and scientists who can handle its complexity, but eventually it will become an open source tool with versions that can be ran at various levels, down to a version for the desktop computer of a city’s emergency planner.

“It will be eventually be open to anyone in the world that wants to use it,” Van de Lindt said.

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Business Risk Partners Hires Simmons as EO Manager in Connecticut

Business Risk Partners Hires Simmons as EO Manager in Connecticut

Bruce Simmons

Business Risk Partners, a program administrator in specialty insurance, has hired Bruce Simmons as errors and omissions (E&O) manager for miscellaneous professional liability (MPL) and cyber liability products.

Simmons is based in Business Risk Partners’ Windsor, Connecticut, office.

Business Risk Partners’ MPL book of business covers more than 160 professions nationally along with specialty programs for real estate and property services, home inspectors, technology firms, and architects and engineers. Additionally, Simmons will manage Business Risk Partners’ standalone and bundled data breach and privacy coverage.

Simmons brings more than 20 years of experience in specialty lines insurance. Since 2008, he has worked for XL Group in Hartford, Connecticut, in various capacities within professional and management liability, most recently serving as vice president, private commercial product manager. Prior to that, Simmons worked for more than a decade in reinsurance leading treaty underwriting and marketing with General Re and Allied World Assurance Company.


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Worldwide Taps Day and Donovan in Washington Office

Worldwide Taps Day and Donovan in Washington Office

Worldwide Facilities Inc. has hired Craig Day and Brian Donovan in its Seattle, Wash. Office.

Day was named senior vice president, and casualty specialist. He will lead the growth for all lines of business in the Northwest, and his focus is on products liability and construction driven risks.

Donovan was named assistant vice president. He is primarily focused on CAT driven risks, all risk, DICs, manufacturing and builders risk placements.

Day has worked as an underwriter, national retail broker and part owner of a national wholesale brokerage firm.  Recently Day was with Brown & Riding’s Washington’s office and has also worked at Marsh.

Donovan comes from Worldwide’s St. Louis office to lead the property initiative for the Northwest.

Worldwide, a Los Angeles, Calif.-based wholesale insurance brokerage firm and managing general agent, offers products and services through 11 offices throughout the U.S.

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Gas Vapor Possible Factor in West Virginia Oil Train Fireball

Gas Vapor Possible Factor in West Virginia Oil Train Fireball

Federal investigators will examine whether pressurized gas played a role in the massive blast that followed the derailment of a train carrying crude oil through West Virginia this week, the U.S. Transportation Department said on Thursday.

Questioning the possible role of gas vapors in the West Virginia fire broadens the debate over how to ensure public safety at a time when drastically larger volumes of crude oil are being shipped by rail and roll through cities and towns.

At least two dozen oil tankers jumped a CSX Corp track about 30 miles south of the state capital, Charleston, on Monday, touching off a fireball that sent flames hundreds of feet into the sky.

The U.S. Transportation Department said it has an investigator at the site to take samples of crude once the wreckage stops burning.

“We will measure vapor pressure in the tank cars that derailed in West Virginia,” said department spokeswoman Suzanne Emmerling.

Some experts say the nature of the explosion, which saw a dense cloud of smoke and flame soaring upwards, could be explained by the presence of highly pressurized gas trapped in crude oil moving in the rail cars.

“Vapor pressure could be a factor,” said Andre Lemieux of the Canadian Crude Quality Technical Association, a trade group which is helping the Canadian government adopt crude oil quality tests.

The American Petroleum Institute, the leading voice for the oil industry, declined to comment on whether high vapor pressure might have played a role in West Virginia.

“What we need to do now is allow the accident investigators to do their jobs,” said Brian Straessle, a spokesman for the trade group.

In the past twelve months, API and the North Dakota Petroleum Council have argued that the dangers of vapor pressure are exaggerated, citing self-funded studies that indicate vapor pressure readings are safe.

Starting in April, North Dakota oil producers will have to tame vapor pressure dangers as part of a statewide plan to reduce dangers on the tracks.

But there is no national standard to control the risk of dangerous gas in oil train cargo.

The Transportation Department declined to govern vapor pressure in a national oil train safety plan conceived last summer. That plan is now with the White House for final review.

The proposal would have oil trains fitted with advanced braking systems to prevent pileups and tougher shells akin to those carrying volatile propane gas on the tracks.

The question of whether gas vapors make oil shipments more prone to detonate has been kept on the margins of the U.S. debate over transporting oil by rail.


The oil train sector has thrived in recent years, pushed by a crude oil renaissance in North Dakota’s Bakken region.

Of the roughly 1.2 million barrels of crude oil produced in North Dakota daily, more than 60 percent of that fuel reaches refineries by rail, typically in 100-tanker unit trains that can stretch a mile long.

Rail and tank car industry leaders have warned that Bakken fuel is uncommonly volatile and that toughened rail cars are needed to control the risk of explosion.

Moving Bakken crude in containers akin to those that haul propane gas on the tracks, as the DOT has outlined, would be one way to mitigate dangers and “the likelihood of seeing… mushroom clouds going up into the sky,” Bob Fronczak, the Association of American Railroad’s hazmat chief, told a safety hearing in April.

Fronczak declined to comment on Thursday. An AAR spokesman said the trade group backed a strong oil train safety plan and looked forward to seeing a final proposal due in May.

Tougher cars and advanced brakes will likely mitigate future oil train mishaps but investigators are right to scrutinize every risk that could have contributed to the West Virginia mishap, said Cynthia Quarterman who recently resigned as head of the DOT’s PHMSA.

“Any hazmat regulator or investigator worth his salt would gather as much data as possible,” she said.

(Reporting By Patrick Rucker; Ernest Scheyder contributed from Williston, North Dakota; editing by Andrew Hay)

Copyright 2015 Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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Energy Workers at Loose Ends after Drop in Crude Prices

Energy Workers at Loose Ends after Drop in Crude Prices

The drive from Ken Mercer’s home in Tennessee to the oil fields of western North Dakota takes 20 hours if you drive straight through.

Every month, Mercer, an Army veteran who served in Iraq, would make the trip as part of his two-weeks-on, two-weeks-off hitch with the Houston oilfield services company Patterson-UTI.

Rotating 12-hour shifts aboard a drilling rig, Mercer worked day and night until it was time to go home, rest and do it all again. That was until one day he arrived at the equipment yard after driving from Tennessee to be informed along with 50 other workers that he was being let go, according to a lawsuit Mercer and another worker in Midland filed in federal court in Houston earlier this month.

So goes an oil boom that is sending workers packing almost as quickly as it drew a couple hundred thousand of them back to the oil fields. In locales such as Odessa, Williston and Carrizo Springs, Texas, where not long ago a vacant apartment could command big-city rents, drilling rigs are piling up in equipment yards. As the layoff announcements mount — 6,400 at Halliburton; 9,000 at Schlumberger — a five-year-long hiring boom that earned workers six-figure salaries and had companies jumping over each other to hire even unskilled workers is collapsing.

With oil prices half what they were seven months ago, the tables have turned. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas is predicting 140,000 jobs in Texas alone could be lost by next year if crude prices don’t rebound.

Even before Bill Buck showed up at Baker Hughes’ equipment yard near Mineral Wells one day earlier this month, he knew it was going to close. Drilling for natural gas had slowed to a trickle, and Buck, who worked his way up from the fields to a position as a lab technician, had heard rumors around town.

At home last week, he said he had enough severance to last him a couple months, but soon he’d have to start looking for work.

“If you want to get back in the oil fields, you have to find something temporary and ride it out,” he told The Dallas Morning News. “But from what I hear it’s slowing down most places. I hear there’s work in Louisiana, but I’m not ready to move.”

As more pink slips flow across office towers and equipment yards, some are fighting back.

In Dallas, attorney Allen Vaught has amassed hundreds of clients among the laid-off ranks and has filed lawsuits against companies including Patterson-UTI and smaller firms GoFrac in Fort Worth and Brazos Rock in Weatherford.

“Oil fields are not unionized. This is an industry that has come to believe this is a workforce we can do with what we want,” Vaught said.

The workers are claiming violations of a federal law requiring larger employers to give at least 60 days’ notice ahead of layoffs. Within the law, there is an exemption for layoffs caused by “unforeseeable business circumstances.” And the sudden drop in crude prices is likely to be a part of any defense.

A spokesman for Patterson emailed, “We believe the lawsuit is without merit, and we intend to defend ourselves vigorously. We value the contributions made by our team members and regret that current market conditions have required these actions.”

Working drilling rigs has always been a feast-or-famine trade. Some veterans who have been around long enough to remember the oil price crashes of the 1980s preach thrift and savings during flush times in preparation for the next downturn.

But this latest boom has brought a whole new generation into the fields. As drilling ramped up, companies needed far more workers than the industry employed. So they increased salaries to fantastic levels, drawing workers from around the country who’d never seen a drilling rig.

“At a minimum wage no one comes. So if you need people, you raise it to get some people. And if you want more people you raise it some more. And so on and so on until you get everyone you need,” said Michael Noel, an economics professor at Texas Tech who studies the oil industry. “There’s a flip side. When production goes down, you don’t need to pay people as much to get the people you need … and the workers go back to Dallas or Houston.”

In 2013, Abel Niño, who lives in Little Elm on a peninsula jutting into Lewisville Lake, got on a crew cleaning up after drilling rigs once the well was finished. Six months later the 36-year-old father of five was on with Patterson, traveling around South Texas and working shifts of up to 100 hours a week.

But since being let go from Patterson’s operation in Alice, Texas, earlier this month, he is left hanging around at home and is struggling to keep up with his expenses.

“I was able to save some, but the more you make, the more you spend, the more bills you accumulate. Now I have a mortgage and a truck payment,” said Niño, who has filed suit against Patterson. “We made good money, plenty of hours. I love the oil field. I just hope it comes back.”

The experience of their first oil bust has left many frustrated.

Worried that they risk their severance packages by speaking publicly, many have taken to online message boards. On sites like TheLayoff.com and Reddit.com, workers of all stripes — from the roughnecks to professionals back in the main office — can trade gossip on who’s next and vent anonymously about their superiors and the corporate culture.

One poster, who identified himself as recently laid off by Schlumberger, wrote, “Right before we sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to a co-worker my boss pulled me aside. I was told I was (laid) off and to get out in 30 mins! They ate cake and watched me leave … like I was some sort of animal!”

At the same time, more than 5,000 refinery workers are on strike, protesting what they say are unsafe conditions across the industry. So far, no refinery workers have been laid off in the downturn, said Lynne Hancock, a spokeswoman for the United Steelworkers union, which represents more than 30,000 refinery workers. The plants can actually be more profitable when crude prices are low, but there is fear cutbacks could spread.

“The majors have cut back on capital spending, and hopefully that doesn’t include spending on improving safety,” Hancock said.

The full weight of the downturn in crude prices has not been felt yet, experts say.

According to federal employment data, the number of people working directly for the U.S. oil and gas industry, as opposed to those who are classified as “supporting” the oil and gas industry, was almost 200,000 in January. That was down slightly from October, when the numbers hit a 28-year high. But still, it was up 3 percent from a year ago.

Simultaneously, oil companies have been announcing steady streams of layoffs, many in the thousands. Those are unfolding slowly over months, even as crude prices remain relatively level.

U.S. oil shale fields, like those in South and West Texas, are expected to be among the hardest hit. Drilling costs there are among the highest in the world, as companies employ cutting-edge techniques like horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to extract oil long thought undrillable.

“We have a ways to go before this is over,” Noel said.

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