With ‘big oil’ comes big risks. The oil boom unquestionably has boosted the West Texas economy, but it’s done so at a price. That is why The Lanier Law Firm and I are now representing clients who have been injured in truck accidents involving oil and gas operators, as well as workers injured in dangerous oilfield accidents.
West Texas is known for its vast stretches of seemingly never-ending highways and roads, but those roads now have become what one resident describes as a “death trap.” Another resident was quoted in a local newspaper as saying that navigating the Midland-Odessa highways is like “driving in a pin ball machine.”
Take a trip down Interstate 20 at any time of day, any day of the week and you will see 18-wheelers, tanker cars, buses, and vans carrying drilling crews and well service workers. That is in addition to the many truckers hauling oil, water, sand and other goods on the stretch of highway between Dallas and Midland/Odessa at speeds approaching 85- 90 mph where the legal speed limit is already a perilously high 80 mph. Plenty of those drivers are texting, talking on the phone, checking their email, searching for a song on the radio, or even watching videos.
To compound the problem, a Department of Public Safety program called “Road Check” found that as many as 30 percent of Texas commercial trucks and vehicles should not be operating due to potentially life-threatening safety problems such as defective brakes, bald tires, inoperable safety lights, and unqualified, unfit or intoxicated drivers.
It’s no wonder that between 2009 and 2013, vehicle fatalities in the counties making up the Permian Basin increased more than 50 percent. During the same time frame in Harris County, the largest county in the state and home to the fourth largest city in the nation, the increase was only 8 percent.
In 2013, there was an average of 25 car and truck crashes a day in and around the Midland/Odessa area, producing an average of 29 injuries every day, nine of which were serious or life-threatening. Statistics show the area was home to an average of two vehicle-related deaths every week.
To say that driving in West Texas is dangerous is a big understatement.
The recent downturn in oil prices does not necessarily solve the problem. A slowdown after an oil boom can lead to drastic, panic-filled layoffs resulting in fewer people doing more jobs. This means overworked, tired employees are being asked to make sure a job is done correctly and that the roads are kept up to par. Sudden actions by workers who are exhausted can lead to devastating accidents.
By Patrice McKinney, M.A, M.S., J.D.