CSB Chairperson Calls for Effective Safeguards at Oil and Gas Sites Across Mississippi; Cites 2009 Tragedy in Which Two Teens Died

August 19, 2010
Jackson, MS, August 19, 2010 – CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso today called on Mississippi legislators and officials to increase safeguards at oil and gas sites across the state. Dr. Moure-Eraso spoke at a meeting of stakeholders convened by State Senator Billy Hudson to discuss the possible introduction of a bill requiring public safety measures at oil and gas sites. The initiative follows an October 31, 2009, explosion in Carnes, MS, where two teenage boys aged 16 and 18 were tragically killed when a gas condensate tank suddenly exploded.
The 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 were seemingly 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. The Board found that since 2003 alone, oil and gas site explosions caused 16 deaths to members of the public, all less than 25 years old. A 2003 explosion in Long Lake, Texas, killed four teenagers; a 2005 explosion in Ripley, Oklahoma, 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, Colorado, 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, MS, was never determined. The 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. 
At a news conference and public meeting in Hattiesburg, MS, on April 13, 2010, the 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. The CSB is currently developing an educational lesson plan to accompany the video, in partnership with university educators in the U.S. and Canada.
Chairman Moure-Eraso said, “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. 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.”
One day after the April 13 CSB news conference in Hattiesburg, CSB investigators learned of a similar accident hundreds of miles away at a production site in Weleetka, Oklahoma. CSB investigators were deployed to Oklahoma to gather information and examine similarities between this accident and the one that occurred in Carnes, MS. The team determined the accident in Oklahoma occurred when a group of teens and young adults held an impromptu gathering at an unsecured oil and gas site; one of the youths, who died in the blast, had a cigarette lighter that likely ignited tank fumes. Just 12 days later, another explosion occurred at a production site in New London, Texas. Two 24-year-olds – a man and a woman – were gathering at the unattended site when an explosion killed the woman and seriously injured the man.
CSB Investigator Vidisha Parasram said, “As with the site in Mississippi, the accident sites in Oklahoma and Texas lacked fencing, gates, and signs. The task force undertook an extensive analysis of state, local, and federal standards to understand practices for securing oil and gas sites across the country.”
The 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, the 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.
The CSB is an independent federal agency charged with investigating serious chemical accidents. The agency's board members are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. CSB investigations look into all aspects of chemical accidents, including physical causes such as equipment failure as well as inadequacies in regulations, industry standards, and safety management systems. 
The Board does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies such as OSHA and EPA. Visit our website, www.csb.gov.
For more information, contact Director of Public Affairs Dr. Daniel Horowitz cell 202-441-6074 cell.
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