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Deaths of teenagers in oil site explosions

14 April 2010

The CSB has released a video “No place to hang out” focusing on the death of teenagers on oil sites. The video begins with the earnest voice of a teenager, reading her own words:

Deaths of teenagers in oil site explosions
Deaths of teenagers in oil site explosions

“My name is Shawn-Ashlee Davis. I’m a senior at Forrest County Agricultural High School in Mississippi. And on October 31, 2009, two people who were very close to me, and the ones I loved, died in an instant. Was it a car crash? No. It was an oil tank explosion.”

Told through the eyes and voices of grieving and concerned parents, friends, and local officials, the newest CSB safety video, “No Place to Hang Out: The Danger of Oil Sites,” tells the story of the tragic deaths of 18-year-old Wade White and 16-year-old Devon Byrd, killed October 31, 2009, when an oil tank, located in a clearing in the woods near the home of one of the boys in the rural town of Carnes, suddenly exploded.

The 11-minute video is available on and YouTube and will be released on free DVD’s, which can be requested from the CSB’s online Video Room.

In the video, Davis speaks for other teenagers searching for ways to prevent these recurring accidents. She asks: “Why? How? We wanted answers. We wanted the truth. And now we want to make a difference.”

Teenagers and adults who were interviewed say it is a common practice in rural areas for young people to hang out and socialise at oil production sites. “It’s like our own little sanctuary where we can just be away from everybody,” said Cody Hunt, 18, one of the teens featured in the video. Mr. Hunt goes on to warn other teens, “It’s not worth going out and losing your life over it.”

Teenagers and parents stated they were unaware of the danger of getting close to oil tanks, whose flammable contents can ignite causing powerful explosions. The oil site where the fatal blast occurred had no fences, barriers, gates, warning signs, or other security measures and was normally unattended. Although some states and localities require fencing and securing oil sites, the CSB could not identify any federal, state, or local requirement or specific industry guidance for securing the oil site in Carnes.

A CSB review of published news accounts indicates that 36 teenagers and six young adults have perished in similar explosions at oil sites resulting from the ignition of flammable vapor since 1983. Recent multiple-fatality accidents include a 2003 explosion in Long Lake, Texas, that killed four teenagers; a 2005 explosion that killed 19- and 20-year old men in Ripley, Oklahoma; a 2007 explosion in Mercedes, Texas, that killed three teenagers; and a 2007 explosion in Routt National Forest, Colorado, that killed two teenagers. Often, a modest ignition source like a match, cigarette, or lighter was all that it took to ignite a devastating tank explosion.

Speaking for the three-member Chemical Safety Board, Board Member William B. Wark said: “The Board urges oil and gas production companies, state legislatures, and regulators to ensure that oil and gas tank sites are properly secured and have appropriate warning signs to discourage entry. We also urge parents and teachers to educate teens about the potentially deadly risk from these sites.”

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