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Dangerous Roads in West Texas Increase Fatal Accidents

Western Texas is home to numerous oilfield servicers, many of which are scattered across an 83-mile-long stretch of Highway 302. However, this single-lane road that runs from Odessa, Texas to Loving County, saw a 76% increase in traffic in 2017. Unfortunately, traffic is this area only getting worse.

According to Amir Gerges, general manager of Shell’s operations in the Permian Basin, it’s not pipelines, geology, or labor shortage that threaten growth in area, it’s the roads. “Almost everything you need at the wellhead is transported by road,” Gerges said. “That’s the one biggest challenge everyone faces, not just Shell.”

Because being an oilfield worker pays more than being a road worker, West Texas has been struggling to attract enough skilled laborers to address the traffic crisis. John Speed, the local district engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation, said, “We lose employees to the oilfield all the time because they pay more.” Housing is also a major issue. “Rents have jumped 30 percent in each of the last 2 years. There’s a year-long waiting list for new builds,” said Speed.

To address the traffic crisis, $250 million will be spent next year to upgrade roads and add more lanes. According to the transportation department, spending for the project will increase to $360 million in 2020.

Speaking about how the roads in West Texas threaten oil operations, Gerges said the following:

“There are manageable risks: skills, infrastructure, housing, health, but the piece that needs the most work is roads. One bad player can spoil it all. If there’s anything that’s going to constrain us from the projections we have for the Permian, it’s this. It’s the most dangerous part of the whole business.”

The Permian Road Safety Coalition says that there is an accident fatality every 35 hours in the oilfield’s counties. Two years ago there was an accident fatality every 75 hours.

Currently, truck drivers are in such high demand that a person with a high school diploma and commercial driver’s license can easily make $120,000 a year in the Permian. Including overtime, a truck driver can make up to $200,000 a year.

According to Gary Painter, Sheriff of Midland County, “That’s hard to pass up. But it means working 80, 100-hour weeks. A lot of them will cheat and use narcotics, helping them get through. All it does is create a dangerous situation. We have a lot more accidents, a lot more fatalities.”

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