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Oil rig exemptions threaten workers and highway travelers

With gas prices at stake, the government has made certain legal exceptions for the oil industry to keep rigs productive and prices low. A recent report shows that the largest cause of fatalities in the oil rig industry is highway accidents, in part due to oil field exemptions from highway safety rules that allow truckers to work longer than drivers in other industries. This applies to oil rig workers in Houston, Texas and nationwide.

According to oil field truckers, the exemptions help them earn more money, however, they are pressured to drive after shifts that are 20 hours or longer, which can result in a significant number of accidents and fatalities. Drivers have reported not sleeping for over 36 hours at a time and then being forced to unload supplies and get back on the highway. The National Transportation Safety Board also "strongly opposes" the oil field exemptions.

Trucking companies have been penalized nationwide for allowing oil field truckers to drive after working for 14 hours, which is the legal limit. Safety advocates also believe, and warn, that the threat of serious accidents and injury for oil rig truck drivers and other passengers on the road will only grow in the coming years, with more than 200,000 new oil and gas wells being drilled nationwide.

A popular drilling technique, known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking demands more trucks on the road, in part, because fracking requires millions of gallons of water per well. New drilling has added millions in tax revenue and royalty payments and created thousands of jobs, including high pay to unpaid laborers. However, critics believe that this boon to the country is also a severe safety hazard and puts every worker, driver and passenger on the highways at risk.

Source: New York Times, "Deadliest Danger Isn't at the Rig but on the Road," Ian Urbina, May 14, 2012.

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