CSB Chairperson Calls for Effective Safeguards at Oil and Gas Sites Across Mississippi

Aug. 25, 2010
On Aug. 19, CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso called on Mississippi legislators and officials to increase safeguards at oil and gas sites across the state.

Moure-Eraso spoke at a meeting of stakeholders convened by Mississippi State Senator Billy Hudson, R-45, to discuss the possible introduction of a bill requiring public safety measures at oil and gas sites. The initiative follows an Oct. 31, 2009, explosion in Carnes, Miss., where two teenage boys aged 16 and 18 were killed when a gas condensate tank suddenly exploded.

CSB found similar accidents have occurred at rural oil and gas sites in states across the country, killing and injuring children, teenagers and young adults. These individuals seemingly were unaware of the significant explosion and fire hazards at oil and gas production well and storage sites.

According to the CSB investigation, 26 similar accidents at oil and gas sites resulted in 44 fatalities among teenagers and young adults between 1983 and 2010. CSB found that since 2003 alone, oil and gas site explosions caused 16 deaths to members of the public, all under 25 years old. A 2003 explosion in Long Lake, Texas, killed four teenagers; a 2005 explosion in Ripley, Okla., killed a 19-year old man and a 20-year-old man; a 2007 explosion in Mercedes, Texas, killed three teenagers; and a 2007 explosion in Routt National Forest, Colo., killed two teenagers.

Many explosions reportedly occurred when victims accidentally brought a cigarette, match or lighter into contact with vapor from storage tanks. The initiating event for the explosion in Carnes, Miss., was never determined. CSB convened a task force to look into state and federal rules and regulations governing the safety and security of oil and gas production sites.

In April, CSB released the safety video "No Place to Hang Out: The Danger of Oil Well Sites," which is aimed at educating young people on the hazards of socializing at the sites, a popular though sometimes deadly pastime among teenagers and young adults in rural areas. CSB is currently developing an educational lesson plan to accompany the video, in partnership with university educators in the U.S. and Canada.

“The CSB encourages the state of Mississippi to be a champion of oil site safety for the rest of the country. I encourage the oil and gas industry, state legislatures, and federal and state regulators to learn from these tragedies and to take immediate action,” Moure-Eraso said. “The lives of too many young people are being lost when they could be easily saved by securing the oil sites with fences and warning signs.”

CSB has identified some states that require specific safeguards at oil and gas sites. For example sites in areas of California are required to have barbed wire fencing around facilities “where it is necessary to protect life and property.” Similarly, Colorado and Ohio require fencing of oil and gas production sites in urban or populated areas.

Overall, however, CSB task force identified a lack of consistent state or municipal regulations for perimeter fencing, gates, locks and warning signage. Such safeguards would deter public access to the sites and prevent the accidental ignition of vapor from storage tanks.

The CSB task force is concluding its examination of oil site safety and anticipates presenting a proposed case study and formal recommendations for board consideration in the fall of 2010.

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