Since the first well was drilled in 2008, the oil business has been booming in the Eagle Ford Shale, making it one of the fastest-growing regions in the country. The oil rush has also brought unprecedented levels of truck traffic to the rural South Texas region and, with it, skyrocketing traffic accident and fatality rates. The number of crashes has now prompted the Texas Department of Transportation to launch an education campaign in the area, urging drivers to “Be Safe. Drive Smart.”
“Oil and gas activity has created unprecedented volume of traffic in many parts of our state,” said TxDOT Executive Director LtGen Joe Weber, USMC (Ret.) in a press release from earlier today. “It’s more important than ever for drivers to give their full attention to the road. They should also obey traffic laws and slow down when traveling through energy-producing communities.” TxDOT’s campaign will include placing oversized traffic safety signs, addressed to “local residents and travelers” in the Eagle Ford Shale region, with reminders such as “Give Trucks Space,” ‘Drive Now, Text Later,” and “Really, Stop Means Stop.”
While these are all important safety rules that every driver should remember, it is not an increase in “local residents and travelers” that is leading to the increase in collisions and fatalities in the Eagle Ford Shale. In 2013, there were 3,430 traffic crashes involving serious injuries or fatalities in a 23-county region stretching from Laredo to Huntsville, representing a 26 percent jump from 2012 and resulting in 236 fatalities. The increase is largely fueled by trucks: According to a DPS report, Karnes, La Salle, and Dimmit Counties saw a 470 percent increase in crashes involving commercial vehicles between 2009 and 2011. The crashes certainly are not being caused by late-night partiers-the most unsafe times of the day on Eagle Ford Shale roads are between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
The oil boom has brought thousands of trucks to the roads in the Eagle Ford Shale. Shortages of qualified truckers in the area have become endemic, with thousands of truckers flocking to the region, drawn by five-figure signing bonuses and salaries of up to $80,000 per year or more. Still, the shortage has become worse, leading to large numbers of barely-trained drivers being rotated in and out of driver school as soon as they receive their Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDLs).
Drilling in the Eagle Ford Shale has been an economic boon to South Texas, but there is no reason for it to come at the expense of the safety of the traveling public. The incentive to loosen training and qualifications standards for drivers in order to meet demand is strong, but businesses that employ truck drivers owe a responsibility to the public to ensure that every truck driver has all the training and experience necessary to drive safely on the Eagle Ford Shale’s crowded roads.