Forty-four young people have been killed since 1983 in explosions at oil and natural gas production sites across the country.
The chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board insists all of those deaths — including nine in Oklahoma — could have been prevented by proper safety measures.
The federal agency that investigates industrial chemical accidents on Thursday issued a number of safety recommendations to improve current safety and security measures at exploration and production sites.
The board's report also called on state regulators in Oklahoma, Texas and Mississippi to require safer, modern tank designs to reduce the likelihood of an internal tank explosion.
“As the demand for domestic energy resources continues to grow and the number of active extraction and production sites continues to rise steadily, it is important to ensure that these sites have the appropriate safeguards to save young people's lives,” Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said.
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission is considering the board's recommendations.
“Obviously, public safety is a primary concern we all share,” spokesman Matt Skinner said. “Commission staff is currently reviewing the recommendations of the board, particularly as regards specific details and this agency's jurisdiction.”
Investigators from the Chemical Safety Board came to Oklahoma last year after the explosion of an oil tank near Weleetka killed one man and injured another.
The board's report stems from its scrutiny of that explosion and two others in Texas and Mississippi between October 2009 and April 2010.
All three incidents occurred in isolated rural areas at unfenced production sites that did not have clear or legible warning signs or hatch locks to keep people away from the flammable hydrocarbons inside the tanks.
“After reviewing the work of our investigators, I believe that these incidents were entirely preventable,” Moure-Eraso said. “Basic security measures and warning signs — as well as more safely designed storage tanks — will essentially prevent kids from being killed in tank explosions at these sites.”
The board's investigation found that some states and municipalities already require some level of security for oil and gas production sites, but major energy-producing states like Oklahoma and Texas do not have fencing or signage requirements for sites with flammable storage tanks.
“Oil and gas storage sites are part of the landscape in many rural American communities; hundreds of thousands of similar sites are located across the country,” lead investigator Vidisha Parasram said. “It was a concern to discover that issues related to public safety are rarely considered before placement and design of these sites.
“In many cases sites can be as close as 150 to 300 feet from existing buildings such as residences, schools, and churches, and still lack any meaningful warnings or barriers to prevent public access.”
To see a video about the safety measures, go to www.csb.gov/videoroom/detail.aspx?VID=43