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Cigarette sparks fatal oil site explosion

23 April 2010

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has sent investigators to a fatal explosion which occurred on April 14th at 9pm at an unattended oil and gas production site that was unsecured and likely lacked fire or explosion warning signs in Weleetka, Oklahoma. A 21-year-old member of the public died of burns sustained in the explosion and fire.

Cigarette sparks fatal oil site explosion
Cigarette sparks fatal oil site explosion

A 21-year-old member of the public, Zachary Pangle, died of burns sustained in the explosion and fire. A second person apparently was injured critically when two tank batteries exploded at the site east of Oklahoma City.

Investigators determined that six people had gathered for a pasture party on private property. Pangle and 25-year-old Jonathan Pruitt ventured over to the nearby oil tank battery and climbed on a walkway. Pangle was smoking and opened a hatch on one of the tanks. That tank contained what was later described as approximately 160 barrels of light crude oil. The resulting explosion and fire engulfed the victim and caused a second explosion in an interconnected tank. Pangle suffered third-degree burns over 85% of his body  Pruitt suffered burns on his arms.

“The catwalk leading to the top of the tank was unsecured and readily accessible,” said CSB Investigator Vidisha Parasram. “The tank hatches had no mechanism which would permit them to be secured or locked. No fire or explosion warning signs or other warning signage was visible anywhere on the site following the accident.” Parasram said the CSB would continue to study whether any signage could have been destroyed in the fire, but that even the undamaged portions of the facility and the entrance gates had no posted warnings.

The site entrance was protected only by an unmarked gate which multiple witnesses described as being wide open on the night of April 14, and generally open and unlocked at other times. Apart from the gate the site had no fencing or other protective measures that would keep members of the public safe from hazards on the site.

Counting the accident on April 14, the CSB has thus far identified a total of seven oil site explosions and fires in Oklahoma since 1990 that killed or injured members of the public, the highest total for any state. Four of these accidents caused multiple fatalities.

CSB Board Member William Wark said: "The CSB is very concerned about oil site explosions which continue to tragically take the lives of young people in rural areas of oil-producing states. Only last week, I met the families of two teenagers killed last October in an oil site explosion in Mississippi. In that accident and others across the country, the victims have had easy access to storage tanks, catwalks, and hatches and do not appear to have been aware of the serious explosion hazard from highly flammable vapour that is inside or near the tanks."

On April 13, 2010, the CSB released a safety video aimed at educating young people on the hazards of socialising at oil sites, a common phenomenon in rural areas, the CSB found. Entitled "No place to hang out" " the video 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.


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