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Mississippi holds firm on safety measures at oil, gas sites

Law prompted by tragic accident upheld in court

oil tankThe Mississippi Supreme Court last week upheld a Forrest County law requiring fencing, gates and warning signs at oil and gas sites – an ordinance passed after a 2009 accident that killed two teenagers.

The ruling was a defeat for the Delphi Energy Corporation, which argued that its facilities were regulated by the state Oil and Gas Board (OGB), not the county, and so were not subject to the county ordinance. The OGB also joined in challenging the ruling, arguing that fencing around the sites would affect emergency preparedness by preventing first responders and state inspectors from gaining easy access to the site and hindering workers attempting to leave the site.

The Oct. 31 incident in Carnes, Mississippi, occurred when a gas condensate tank suddenly exploded at an unsecured gas well site, killing teenagers Devon Byrd and Wade White.

In September 2010, the Forrest County Board of Supervisors approved the fencing and signage ordinance governing sites in the county. After the ordinance was upheld in Forrest County Circuit Court in March 2012, Delphi appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Accidents are far too frequent at the often-remote locations of oil and gas facilities, where rural young people are sometimes tempted to socialize.

A study conducted in 2011 by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) identified a total of 26 incidents since 1983 that killed 44 members of the public and injured 25 others all under the age of 25.  The study prompted the CSB to urge states, standards organizations, and trade associations to require the use of barriers, security and warning signs to protect members of the public – particularly children and young adults – from these hazards.

CSB Chairperson Rafael Moure-Eraso said yesterday’s legal action will save lives.

“I applaud this final Court decision, as well as the leadership shown by Forrest County,” said Moure-Eraso. “It will protect lives; particularly those of teenagers and young adults who may socialize at these sites in rural areas. I urge other counties in the state, and all jurisdictions where these hazards exist, to pass similar laws.”

The CSB has released a safety video, “No Place to Hang Out,” which was made in partnership with parents, students, and Forrest County officials who were affected by the 2009 explosion.  The video was designed to educate other teenagers across the country about the dangers of oil and gas sites.

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