Five oil field workers died Thursday after their van crashed into a crude oil tanker truck, causing the truck to burst into flames.
The crash occurred in Dimmit County around 7 a.m. Central Time, when the oil tanker truck rolled onto its side after swerving to avoid a pickup truck. The van carrying the men and one other vehicle then hit the truck. Three others were injured in the crash, and one remains in critical condition with burns covering 85 percent of his body. The crash occurred on U.S. Highway 83.
Isaac Garcia, another oil field worker, witnessed the crash. He told the AP that that was the second one he’s seen on Highway 83.
“There were just flames all over the place,” he said. “It took seconds for it to light up the way it did.”
State police are still investigating the accident, Reuters reports. But traffic accidents like this one have been on the uptick since the oil boom started in the Eagle Ford Shale region. Oil booms bring more traffic into a region from workers driving to and from rig sites and oil tankers carting away crude. The Houston Chronicle reported in 2012 that, over a six-month period that year, 12 people died in traffic accidents in Karnes County, Texas — 12 times the number of people who died in traffic accidents in 2008.
“We know there is a lot more traffic now because of the Eagle Ford Shale energy sector within our district, especially on U.S. 83 in north Webb and Dimmit counties,” Raul Leal, public information officer for the Texas Department of Transportation’s office in Laredo, Texas, told the San Antonio Express-News Thursday.
Crashes involving three or more fatalities are also on the rise in the region. The Houston Chronicle reports that crashes can occur when tired oilfield workers, who in some cases have worked 20 or more hours in one day, fall asleep at the wheel.
It’s not just in Eagle Ford, either. In North Dakota’s booming Bakken oil region, fatalities from car accidents have jumped 350 percent over the last 10 years, even though the region’s population only increased by 42 percent during that time. Al Jazeera America reported this week that, in North Dakota in 2013, one person died in a car accident every two and a half days.
“It’s amazing what the population brings to the town in terms of danger,” Gary Ramage, an emergency room physician and North Dakota resident told Al Jazeera America. “When you have that much movement of oil and that many trucks that are coming through, anybody who is on the road is taking their life in their own hands.”