Report: E&P Sites Hazardous To Members Of Public, Especially Children

December 2011, Vol. 238 No. 12

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has released a study of explosions at oil and gas production sites across the U.S., identifying 26 incidents since 1983 that killed 44 members of the public and injured 25 others under age 25, and is calling for new public protection measures at the sites.

The report examined in detail three explosions that occurred at oil and gas production facilities in Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas, that killed and injured members of the public between October 2009 and April 2010. It found that children and young adults frequently socialize at oil sites in rural areas, unaware of the explosion hazards from storage tanks that contain flammable hydrocarbons like crude oil and natural gas condensate. 

The unintentional introduction of an ignition source (such as a match, lighter, cigarette, or static electricity) near tank hatches or vents can trigger an internal tank explosion, often launching the tank into the air and killing or injuring people nearby.

The report identified regulatory gaps at the federal and state levels and called on the Environmental Protection Agency and state regulatory bodies to improve safety and security measures at exploration and production sites such as warning signs, full fencing, locked gates, locks on tank hatches, and other physical barriers. The report also called on state regulators in Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas to require safer, modern tank designs that reduce the likelihood of an internal tank explosion if an ignition source is inadvertently introduced nearby.

Investigators found that the three accidents occurred in isolated, rural wooded areas at production sites that were unfenced, did not have clear or legible warning signs and did not have hatch locks to prevent access to the flammable hydrocarbons inside the tanks.

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