When it comes to the oil and gas shale boom, Texas leads the pack in production. But a special report by the Houston Chronicle and Houston Public Media News 88.7 has put some alarming statistics in the spotlight, prompting a call for immediate attention.
While highway deaths have dropped steadily across the U.S. for the past six decades, the daily newspaper reports that motor vehicle crashes in Texas have climbed.
“There’s no way to tell from Texas traffic accident data just how many passenger cars or commercial vehicles that crashed can be linked directly to the state’s oil and gas boom,” reporter Lise Olsen wrote in the Sept. 14, 2014, article. “But records show that fatal accidents increased more in the groups of counties that make up the Permian Basin and in those affected by the Barnett and Eagle Ford shale plays, where busy roads regularly fill with tractor-trailers, tanker trucks and commercial vans hauling water, workers and suppliers to oil and natural gas well sites, as well in urban counties that serve as burgeoning hubs for the oilfield industry.”
The article goes on to state that motor vehicle fatalities jumped more than 50% from 2009 to 2013 in the West Texas counties associated with the Permian Basin. The increase reported was 11% for the Eagle Ford and Barnett Shale counties.
Regardless of the absence of a direct connection between the two, few can argue that there are not more vehicles, specifically trucks, on Texas roads where shale plays are located. The surge in truck-related traffic deaths in the oil patch is cause for concern, especially considering some of these deaths could have been prevented.
The stories shared are saddening.
In the news radio report, Guadalupe Quintanilla was described by his daughter as someone who loved his big rig and kept it in good condition. Quintanilla died in October 2010 when his truck collided with another truck as he traveled on a highway. Police said the other tractor-trailer driver, who worked for Turn Around Trucking (now out of business), blew a tire causing the accident. The truck was hauling flammable oil-based mud. According to the news reports, Turn Around’s safety record was terrible, with inspections having revealed not only blown-out tires on trucks in its fleet but also bad breaks.
Then, there is the story of Vilma Marenco, who died after a tractor-trailer carrying pipe ran a red light and hit her vehicle. She was so close to her home when the accident happened that her husband heard the screeching tires and crunch of metal from inside their home, the Houston Chronicle reported, which also stated that troopers discovered the 18-wheeler had a dozen defects.
These were only two of many stories.
It’s true, accidents happen. But all drivers should take responsibility. Don’t become be part of the problem and add to death tolls by being outright neglectful. Obey the laws of the road. Properly maintain vehicles. If you’re too tired to drive, pull over and take a break. Use common sense.
The news report revealed Texas Department of Public Safety troopers have already doubled the number of audits on trucking companies since 2009. Law enforcement agencies should continue doing whatever is in their power to keep illegally operated vehicles off the road. Likewise, oil and gas companies should do the same by choosing to do business with responsible trucking companies and responsible drivers. And for the trucking companies, regularly maintaining vehicles and providing driver training are essential. Make safety the priority.
The news report is part of a five-part series by the Houston Chronicle and Houston Public Media News 88.7. Read more in the series at HoustonChronicle.com/oiltraffic.
Contact the author, Velda Addison, at firstname.lastname@example.org.