States where oil companies are now using the controversial drilling technique known as fracking have seen a spike in fatal traffic accidents.
Fracking is a drilling method called hydraulic fracturing by industry experts. It involves pumping large quantities of water and chemicals into the ground at high pressure to break up rock and soil to free deposits of oil and natural gas. In order to do this as many as 4,000 trucks per well are needed to deliver those supplies, according to a recent Associated Press story.
Those extra trucks mean increased traffic in places where roads and police forces are not yet ready to deal with the demands. That is leading to dangerous conditions resulting in numerous deaths, some say.
Texas is one state that has witnessed this disturbing trend. A recent study there showed that traffic deaths were down across the state by 20 percent. However, in Texas counties where fracking is used, traffic deaths are actually up 18 percent on average.
"We are just so swamped," said Sheriff Dwayne Villanueva of Karnes County, Texas. “I don't see it slowing down anytime soon.”
He added that three to four times a week the county sees an accident so serious that a victim must be airlifted from the scene. Villanueva said that only used to happen a few times a month before drilling operations began.
The AP story analyzed six states where fracking is used. All of those states have seen similar increases.
The oil industry does not deny that traffic deaths are an unfortunate side effect of the new wells. The head of Royal Dutch Shell’s exploration operations, Marvin Odum, said that fatal accidents are "recognized as one of the key risk areas of the business.”
Experts say that loose regulations on drivers are partially to blame. While federal regulations specify how long a truck driver is allowed to operate on certain roads, the rules are much more lax for drivers in the oil industry who cover shorter distances.
Compounding the problem is the inability of many counties to widen roads or add passing lanes fast enough to keep up with the rapid growth in drilling operations and the spike in truck traffic.
A recent story on the trend from Think Progress indicates that the increase in fatal accidents has been so drastic in Pennsylvania that a law firm now exists to deal only with deaths and injuries blamed on fracking traffic.
The firm is called Frackcident Injury Law. Its website claims that “the combination of too many trucks, sleep-deprived truckers, ramshackle vehicles, and dangerous roads is a nightmare for anyone who cares about roadway safety.”