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Fracking Officials Admit Production Fatal to Locals

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has been a topic surrounded by extreme controversy since its introduction. The practice of shooting chemical-filled water into the ground to release natural gas prompts the most polarizing opinions and concerns all over the world. Despite reassurance from fracking companies that the chemicals and toxic waste associated with the technology in no way harm those involved (although that in itself is questionable), companies are admitting their production can be deadly as numerous fatalities and injuries by car accidents have already occurred.

Due to the huge increase in fracking operations in oftentimes small, rural communities, automotive accidents have soared. Large trucks, big drilling equipment, and employee vehicles are now inundating roads not meant for heavy traffic. According to US census data, traffic related fatalities have more than quadrupled since 2004 in six drilling states; at the same time when most of America showed a decrease in crashes despite a growing population.

How bad is it?

North Dakota drilling counties have reaped many of the economical benefits of fracking, and a population increase of over 43 percent within the last decade. However, the state’s traffic fatalities have increased 350 percent in the counties where fracking occurs, making them twice as deadly as roads in non-fracking counties. In Texas drilling areas, it’s 2.5 times more likely to die in a fatal crash per mile driven than the statewide average. Traffic related fatalities in West Virginia’s fracking counties increased by 42 percent in 2013, while fatalities in the rest of the state declined by 8 percent. According to Sheriff Dwayne Villanueva of Karnes County, Texas traffic accidents serious enough to require air transport of victims occurs three or four times each week. Before drilling began, it only happened a few times per month.

Who are the victims?

The victims of such accidents range from children to adults, and have left families devastated. In Pennsylvania, a father was killed by a tanker; in Texas, a 19-year-old man was killed when a drilling truck collided with his vehicle. On the same road, one month later, three retired teachers died after another collision with a truck. In West Virginia, a truck carrying drilling water overturned onto a car with a mother and her two sons inside. The truck fatally crushed the two boys, 7-years-old and 8-years-old, after running through a stop sign. The driver of the truck was issued two traffic tickets, but no criminal charges were filed.

What can be done?

With the incredible rate in which fracking operations are growing, it’s very difficult for counties and regions to keep up with the boom. There are federal regulations limiting the amount of time truckers can stay on the road, but as with most fracking initiatives, laws are being overlooked in the name of money. Jacki Gilla, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety said, “These exemptions make Swiss cheese out of safety regulations.”

Some fracking states, like Pennsylvania and Texas, are trying to reduce traffic fatalities with safe-driving campaigns. North Dakota is working on adding turning and climbing lanes to give drivers a safe path to pass trucks and drilling equipment. However, with consistent drilling increases in condensed areas, it’s unlikely to make a dent in the amount of crashes.

The fracking industry recognizes the problem and admits vehicle crashes are the primary cause of death to oil and gas workers.  It also acknowledges that many of the victims are not drilling employees, but locals going about their daily lives. It remains unclear what steps, if any, fracking companies are taking to reduce these deaths. Which leads to the question:

 

 

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