Sustained Outrage

Remember when U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller held a congressional field hearing about natural gas development in West Virginia’s Marcellus Shale region and one local sheriff likened the drilling boom to an “invasion”? That was Marshall County Sheriff  John Gruzinskas and he told lawmakers at that April 2012 hearing:

Since Marshall County is already an industrial county, we thought we have seen these surges in industry come and go. We were never prepared for the onslaught of heavy trucks that would monopolize our roads, damage our property, and destroy our roads. These trucks travel our roads all hours of the day and night. The drivers are not from here so they do not care what happens as a result of their reckless operation. Our roads are destroyed from these overloaded vehicles. And our state is a willing participant in this destruction.

The sheriff continued:

The majority of our complaints of traffic crashes are hit and run crashes, and large trucks running off the road. What we have experienced is that most of the companies sub-contracted by the gas drillers are from southern and western states. The drivers are not familiar with our winding narrow roads. This makes for a bad combination for our local oncoming traffic. Many of our residents are run off the road by the large trucks. Although we try and educate our residents to get as much information as possible about the offender, so we can take enforcement action, it is difficult for them to do that as they try to keep from going over the hill.

And now this week, we have this terrible news out of Harrison County, as reported by The Associated Press (and originally reported by the Clarksburg paper here and here and WDTV here and above):

Investigators are looking into a driver’s report that his brakes failed before his water tanker collided with a car and killed two Clarksburg children.

The boys, 7 and 8 years old, died in a weekend crash with a T&S Trucking tanker loaded with brine water from a gas drilling operation. It happened on a U.S. 50 off-ramp.

Clarksburg Police Chief Marshall Goff said the boys’ mother is Lucretia Mazzei, 49. The boys attended Adamston Elementary. Harrison County sent counselors there and to other schools Monday to help children cope.

The truck driver hasn’t been identified or charged. Goff said the driver told police his brakes didn’t work properly, but a preliminary investigation suggests they weren’t an issue.

T&S Trucking is based in Mineral Wells. The company didn’t immediately return messages.

We’ve reported before here about the dangers faced by workers in the gas-drilling industry (National Geographic had a recent story that focused in part on describing the life of a female water-truck driver) and recently, the results of National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health investigations of vehicle accidents in the natural gas industry were published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention:

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of work-related fatality in the U.S. as well as in the oil and gas extraction industry. This study describes the characteristics of motor vehicle-related fatalities in the oil and gas extraction industry using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. It compares the risk of dying in a motor vehicle crash in this industry to other major industries and among different types and sizes of oil and gas extraction companies. There were 202 oil and gas extraction workers who died in a work-related motor vehicle crash from 2003 to 2009. The motor vehicle fatality rate for workers in this industry was 8.5 times that of all private wage and salary workers (7.6 vs. 0.9, p<.0001). Workers from small oil and gas establishments (<20 workers) and workers from well-servicing companies were at greatest risk of dying in a motor vehicle crash. Pick-up trucks were the most frequent type of vehicle occupied by the fatally injured worker (n=104, 51.5%). Safety belt non-use was identified in 38.1% (n=77) of the cases. Increased focus on motor vehicle safety in this industry is needed, in particular among small establishments. Extraction workers who drive light duty vehicles need to be a specific focus.