by Alexandra Arkin,
Medill News Service on 09/19/11
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Chemical Safety Board will release a study in September with recommendations to combat a little-known frightening trend among young people during the last three decades: teens and young adults being killed or injured in explosions at unattended oil production sites.
From 1983 to 2010, there were 26 accidental explosions, killing 44 young people and injuring 26. More than a third of those deaths occurred in the last decade, with 16 deaths – all victims under age 25 – since 2003.
Bridget Serchak, a spokeswoman for the CSB, said teenagers in rural communities like to hang around unattended oil pumping stations. Even if the tank appears empty, the fumes within are still flammable and can easily ignite with just a spark, creating a powerful explosion. So if teens are smoking near the holding tank, or try to peer inside the holding tank using a lighter, they may accidentally cause an explosion.
Young people often grow up with unattended oil stations as part of their landscape. “They don’t view the sites as dangerous because they are ubiquitous,” said CSB investigator Vidisha Parasram.
The sites are often unsecured and people can easily get to the holding tanks. Young people congregate at them. Hunters even use them for hunting posts.
The CSB first learned about the explosions after a tank blew up in Palestine, Texas, in 2003, killing four people. It only became actively involved after an Oct. 31, 2009, explosion killed two teenage boys in Carnes, Miss. At that point, the incidents had received relatively little attention, and the CSB began investigating the explosion.
On April 13, 2010, the CSB issued an 11-minute video in a press release and on its website about the Mississippi accident called “No Place to Hang Out.” The video targets teens who are unaware the dangers of entering oil production areas. Over the next several months, the CSB also created other educational materials which it distributed to Mississippi school superintendents.
But just one day after the video’s release, an explosion in Weleetka, Okla., killed a 21-year-old man. Another explosion on April 26, 2010, in New London, Texas, killed a 24-year-old woman and seriously injured a 24-year-old man.
In response to these incidents and the Mississippi explosion, the CSB created a task force to examine what went wrong at the oil sites.
The report that resulted from the investigation is being reviewed by stakeholders (such as oil and gas producers, government agencies, the public health community and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), before being revised and released in September.
Parasram said the study will include: