The decision by the Mississippi Supreme Court upholding a county law to require fencing, gates and warning signs at oil and gas sites is an important one that will ultimately save the lives of young people who are tempted to socialize at these locations.
The Court upheld a Forrest County ordinance that was passed following an October 31, 2009, explosion in Carnes, MS, in which two young boys aged 16 and 18 were tragically killed when a gas condensate tank suddenly exploded at an unsecured gas well site a short distance from the house of one of the boys.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board investigated the incident and other similar ones across oil-producing states. In April 2010 the Board voted to urge “barriers, security, and warning signs” at the sites and 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 explosion. The video was designed to educate other teenagers across the country about the dangers of oil and gas sites. In September 2010, the Forrest County Board of Supervisors approved the fencing and signage ordinance governing sites in the county.
The introduction of an ignition source (such as a match, lighter, cigarette, or static electricity) near tank hatches or vents can trigger an internal tank explosion, often launching the tank into the air and killing or injuring people nearby, the CSB found in its October 2011 study of the problem. The study 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 CSB’s safety recommendations urged states, standards organizations, and trade associations, to take action to protect members of the public — particularly children and young adults – from these hazards.
In 2010 I had the opportunity to visit the gas site in Carnes, Mississippi, where this tragic accident occurred and meet with parents, students, and local leaders who have fought tirelessly and heroically to improve public safety at these sites. At that time I urged Mississippi legislators and officials to increase safeguards at oil and gas sites across the state. That year the Board of Supervisors of Forrest County, Mississippi did take action. The county passed an ordinance requiring critical security measures, including fencing and signage, be placed around hazardous oil sites. The recent decision by the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the ordinance, affirming a lower court decision.
I applaud this final Court decision, as well as the leadership shown by Forrest County. 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.