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Eagle Ford: Danger increases on area roads
It’s not really news any more that the oil boom along the Eagle Ford shale is bringing many problems as well as benefits.
Many people are making money, often lots of it. But employment is tight, restaurants are packed, rental housing nearly impossible to find -- and, when it’s found, it’s often five times more expensive than it was two years ago -- and people are dying on the roads at an alarming rate.
“There’s people dying about every three days on the roads,” Harry Wright Jr. told nearly 800 people who attended the Eagle Ford Consortium’s annual conference March 7-8 at the Grand Hyatt in San Antonio. Wright, manager of Valero’s Three Rivers plant, was quoted in the San Antonio Express-News.
In fact, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), 2012 was a bloody year in the counties along the Eagle Ford. In the nine Texas counties along the play, 102 people died, nearly half of them killed in accidents involving a commercial vehicle.
Craig Brown, an attorney who grew up in Karnes City, knows many of the people who have been affected by the increased tractor-trailer rig traffic. He’s obtained settlements with oil-field trucking companies for several area families and has more litigation ongoing.
“Things have sure changed around here in just the last couple of years,” he said. “I think everyone can agree with that. In 2008, there were only three fatalities in nine counties that involved a commercial vehicle. In 2011, there were 13. Last year, 47 fatalities in 40 wrecks with commercial vehicles.”
Brown also noted that, according to DPS information, the total number of fatal accidents that involved a commercial vehicle jumped from 487 in 2011 to 818 in 2012 and 2012’s number is more than quadruple the number of fatal wrecks that occurred in 2008.
He acknowledged that the big trucks that roar through Karnes City or Floresville aren’t always at fault. But, too often, the trucks are poorly maintained and driven by under-trained drivers who have been behind the wheel for far too long.
“For these trucking companies, time is money ... and it costs time and money to make sure drivers are properly trained, to make sure trucks are properly maintained. We’re investigating one wreck where the truck lacked even the most basic safety equipment,” Brown said.
For example, he said, it’s not uncommon that oil-field drivers are forced into working a 20-hour shift and be provided a rig with bad brakes, bald tires, and other defects and that would fail even the most cursory of safety inspections.
Texas DPS statistics bear out Brown’s assertion. Each summer, DPS troopers conduct Operation Road Check, a weekend-long project where specially trained troopers stop big rigs at random and inspect them in an effort to improve highway safety.
Despite the event being held at about the same time each year, nearly a quarter of all the trucks inspected fail the inspections. In 2012, DPS stopped more than 8,000 trucks and placed 1,763 out of service for safety violations.
“Accident reports often blame oil-field truck drivers for the collisions they cause,” Brown said. “The truth is usually much more complex and leads back to trucking company management. Sketchy training for drivers and poor truck maintenance are just two of many factors that cause big rigs to be so dangerous.”
Craig Brown is an associate with Cappolino, Dodd, Krebs LLP.
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