April 28th, 2010
09:53 PM ET

Unsecured oil, gas tank explosions claim 2 more lives

Two people were killed by oil and gas tank explosions in recent weeks, even as the Chemical Safety Board launched a major drive to improve safety conditions around the tanks following the deaths last fall of two Mississippi teenagers.

The Chemical Safety Board, created by Congress, investigated the Mississippi incident and found at least 40 other deaths involving oil and gas wells in the past 25 years, most involving young people.

The board said a 24-year-old woman died Monday in an oil tank explosion in New London, Texas. A 24-year-old man was seriously injured in the incident.

And on April 14, a 21-year-old died in an explosion in Weleetka, Oklahoma. The safety board said the "site ... was unsecured and appeared to lack fire or explosion hazard warning signs."

The CSB said it is "deeply concerned about the recent surge of accidents at oil and gas production sites across the country. The board said it is "[urging] the oil and gas production industry, state legislatures and federal and state regulators to take action."

The Oklahoma incident came one day after the CSB released a video about the two boys who died in an explosion in Carnes, Mississippi, last fall.

Devon Byrd, 16, and Wade White, 18, were killed when a natural gas tank at a well production site exploded.

The dead teens' parents said the explosion could have been prevented if some warning signs had been posted - "something simple as fences, gates and signs, probably very inexpensive, and certainly a lot less expensive than what a child's life is worth," said White's father, Phillip.

Local teenagers said the site is a popular hangout because it's quiet and secluded.

Police said they don't know exactly what ignited flammable vapors inside the tank, but when it exploded, the teenagers were killed instantly. Their bodies were found about 40 yards from the tank's base; the tank landed another 20 yards from them. Investigators say they found a lighter, but don't know whether it was involved.

The CSB said it found a patchwork of laws nationwide that don't uniformly address security around oil and gas wells. It's asking the industry to police itself by voluntarily installing fences and warning signs.

"If these tanks are sitting out there in the middle of nowhere, no protection around them, no warning, they are just an accident waiting to happen," CSB Chairman John Bresland told CNN.

Delphi Oil, the company that owns the Mississippi tank that blew up, told CNN it could not discuss the accident because of pending negligence lawsuits filed by the families. A spokesman called the boys' deaths tragic, but the company says it is complying with all rules.

However, authorities tell CNN there are no state regulations requiring locked gates or no-smoking signs.

The CSB asked family and friends of Byrd and White to help them make an educational video about the dangers of oil and gas production sites. It's called "No Place to Hang Out," and it's part of a national campaign to teach young people about the potential danger of tanks. But it also urges the industry to improve itself.

"There's nothing we can do to bring Devon and Wade back, " said White's girlfriend, Maria Thompson, 16. "But if it can save someone else's life, I'd like to see it happen."

Mississippi state Sen. Billy Hudson told CNN he plans to introduce a state law requiring barbed-wire-topped fences, locked gates and "Danger – Keep Out" signs.

"There's no guarantees," Hudson said. "You could cut the fence with a bolt cutter, or you can shoot off a lock. But it'll be a deterrent, and it's a step in the right direction."

White's father says his son would be proud that friends and family are speaking out: "He'd be proud that we're trying to do something to keep other kids and other families from going through what we're going through."

- By CNN's Ross Levitt and Susan Candiotti

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soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Jason

    More Darwin awards to distribute. I mean seriously...people will blame anyone but the instigator in these cases. You can put up a fence and signs, but if a kid is stupid enough to strike a match beside a towering structure that could obviously contain something flammable, he's stupid enough to climb a fence first. Lawyers will have a field day, as usual, and common sense and personal responsibility slip a little deeper into the void.

    April 29, 2010 at 3:32 am | Report abuse |
  2. maria morrison

    Got my name wrong. Its maria morrison, not thompson, and I'm 17 instead of 16.

    April 29, 2010 at 9:40 am | Report abuse |
  3. maria morrison

    And jason, you can seriously go screw yourself. Everyone around carnes goes to these tanks. No one knew that they were dangerous because there is nothing telling us it is. I don't like putting myself in danger and I went down there all the time.

    April 29, 2010 at 9:44 am | Report abuse |
  4. A CNN Reader

    If the kids aren't taught to LEAVE SOMEONE ELSES STUFF ALONE... then here's your Darwin Award!! If it aint yours, stay off it, away from it, dont go near it. Its as simple as that... Crap like this is why hair dryers have millions of dollars worth of warning labels saying TO NOT USE IN WATER. I agree with Jason, Its the kids fault and their parents, plain and simple. Maria, you seriously need to get a clue and an education. If it doesn't belong to you, STAY AWAY FROM IT. Kids like you are what increases the cost of a lot of things for the rest of us.

    August 17, 2010 at 6:38 am | Report abuse |
  5. kathy foos

    My son was killed in the National Forest and the situation was allowed for 50 years (kids hanging out)till my son was killed.I dont think its too hard to sign and fence off a tank(duh)you talk of the kids not being taught to respect?How about fencing off those tanks,you are ignorant to blame .Its tax deductable for the companys,they have no respect for life,same as you that blame the dead victems.Youy are perfect I take it?Glad any mistakes you ever made didnt kill you.

    October 30, 2011 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |