OILFIELD truck accidents remain a serious issue for the companies operating in the oil and gas shale plays and other locations across the United States. Recent statistics show that 40% of oilfield fatalities are in transportation.
That concern has led the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to launch increased oversight of energy operations, according to Earl Hardy, FMCSA senior policy advisor. He was the opening speaker for the Association of Energy Service Companies 2014 Oilfield Trucking Conference held October 7-9 in Fort Worth, Texas.
“We’re seeing a steady increase in truck accident fatalities in all of the states with oilfield operations,” he said. “Many of the energy operations are in small towns with inadequate road infrastructure. Roadway safety certainly has been impacted.
“We are using a data-driven approach to enforcement in these areas. This includes more roadside inspections of trucks. We are trying to direct more funding to the states to deal with issues related to oilfield trucking.”
Kyla Retzler with the Centers for Disease Control/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (CDC/NIOSH), offered up the latest statistics for oilfield fatalities. For the past four years, she has worked as an epidemiologist within the Oil and Gas Safety and Health Program at CDC/NIOSH.
Preliminary estimates that were available at the time of the AESC Oilfield Trucking Conference showed 112 oilfield fatalities per 100,000 workers in 2013. That was down from 142 fatalities per 100,000 workers in 2012.
“While the 2013 number works out to two fatalities per week, it was a statistically significant decrease from the previous year,” she said. “Unfortunately, the media hasn’t covered that fact.”
The data shows that transportation accounted for 40% of the oilfield fatalities, and 26% of the transportation incidents involved contact with an object. Most notably, 51.5% of the oilfield transportation fatalities occurred in pickup trucks. Just 26.7% involved heavy-duty commercial vehicles. Seat belts were not worn in 50% of the oilfield transportation fatalities.
“It’s important to note that fatigue was a factor in 15% to 20% of the oilfield transportation fatalities,” Retzler said. “Fatigue certainly is an issue. Workers face long commutes to the job site, and they want to be at home until the last minute. Adequate sleep is often a low priority for younger workers.
“Oilfield workers get called out at all hours, and may not be well rested when they leave for the work site. In the case of an oilfield service company, if you don’t respond, someone else will. Many truck drivers are paid by the load or mile. Drivers may have difficulty finding a place to stop and rest. In some cases, there are conflicts in the priorities of fleet dispatchers and drilling rig operators.”
Officer Robert Mills, Fort Worth Police Department commercial vehicle enforcement instructor, said the goal for any company must be zero vehicle deaths. “Vehicle fatalities touch all of us, and we need to think about highway safety all the time,” he said.
Mills added that it is important for company managers to avoid putting driver in a position of doing something that compromises safety. Safety must be a regular part of the job and must be reinforced through retraining.
Road conditions in the oilfield also play a big role in preventing accidents. “The amount of traffic on rural roads in Colorado certainly affects safety,” said Patti Gillette, director of safety for the Colorado Motor Carriers Association. “Traffic congestion is a problem, especially at crossroads.”
Roads and bridges are taking a beating in the Colorado oilfields. “Thirty percent of the roads in the state were in fair or good condition in 2014,” she said. “Forty percent of the bridges are in poor condition. We have a large number of 50-year-old bridges in these areas, and we have seen little or no investment in making upgrades.”
Bridges are a problem in Oklahoma, as well, according to Steve Niswander, Groendyke Transport Inc vice-president of safety policy and regulatory relations and board of directors member of the Oklahoma Trucking Association.
“There are 6,828 bridges in Oklahoma, and 1,500 of them are structurally deficient and functionally obsolete,” he said. “We have more than 1,493 old bridges, including some that are 100 years old and still in operation. No state funds were allocated to bridges from 1985 to 2005.”
More money is needed to maintain and improve the state’s road and highway infrastructure. “These roads are of critical importance to the oil industry, which is the number one sources of revenue in Oklahoma,” Niswander said. “Agriculture is number two.”
Two-lane roads in the oilfield areas are taking a beating. Many rural roads have steep hill climbs and sharp curves that need to be straightened out. Many roads are lacking shoulders. Stop signs are obscured by overgrowth.
To address some of the problems, the state government has proposed $2.3 billion in two-lane road improvements. In addition, some Oklahoma counties have solicited financial help from trucking companies to repair roads and bridges.
A bill was proposed in the state legislature to let counties sell overweight permits for roads and bridges, according to Niswander. Twice the legislation has been defeated by Ag trucking interests that want overweight allowances without the permits.
Texas will be spending roughly $800 million on its network of roads and bridges, thanks to overwhelming voter approval of a ballot initiative during the election in November 2014. “Some of the funds will go to address congestion in urban areas,” said Les Findeisen, Texas Trucking Association director of policy & intergovernmental relations. “However, a good portion needs to go into the oilfield. Oil is the goose that laid the golden egg that is generating the money for highway improvements.”
Road conditions aren’t the only challenges faced by the companies that service drilling and production operations in the oil and gas fields across Texas. Findeisen pointed out that 59 entities enforce motor vehicle rules at the state and local level in Texas.
“We need to address the issues we face with out-of-control county sheriffs enforcing commercial vehicle rules and conducting roadside inspections,” he said. “Currently, there is no incentive to insure that those enforcement activities are performed correctly.”
Driver logs are among the things reviewed during roadside inspections. Increasingly, inspectors are seeing electronic driver logs, and these will be mandated, probably within the next three years or so.
While some truck fleets have already switched over to electronic driver logs, other fleets have indicated that they may wait until the very last minute. This could be a big mistake, according to Brian McCoy, vice-president of business development at MiX Telematics.
“Waiting is not a good idea, because the last minute could be a crazy time,” he said. “Companies that wait may not be able to meet the deadline if they have technical issues with the system they choose.”
McCoy and Paul Shouse, inthinc Technology Solutions vice-president of sales for oil & gas markets, reviewed key benefits of electronic driver logs:
• Out-hours violations are significantly reduced or eliminated resulting in a higher level of compliance;
• Manual paperwork is eliminated;
• Much less administrative work is required;
• Fleets have real-time visibility of driver duty status;
• Real-time alerts are sent prior to log violations;
• Electronic logs can be integrated into the payroll system; and
• Electronic logs help facilitate automated fuel tax reporting. ♦