The Permian Basin of Texas is the state’s oil hub. Nearly a century ago, oil was discovered in the small town of Midland. After oil was discovered, the region – which includes the neighboring town of Odessa - saw an economic boom that attracted workers from everywhere. Highly traveled roads and construction quickly encompassed the once barren landscape. The oil industry attracted businessmen from all over the world.
But over the years, the Permian Basin has seen its share of highs and lows as it faced challenges posed by the Great Depression, foreign oil markets and drops in crude oil prices. By 2016, the region became a post-oil ghost-town. Jobs were lost, offices abandoned, and once-bustling highways became less traveled as unemployment hit an all time high.
However, a 2016 report released by U.S. Geological Survey estimated that roughly 20 billion barrels of oil, “undiscovered but technically recoverable,” could be buried beneath the Wolfcamp Shale of Midland. It is estimated that the amount of oil residing in the Permian Basin will be enough to fuel the average car for 9.6 trillion miles – but would take about 30 years to extract. With U.S. crude prices just below $50 a barrel, the region is set for another oil boom.
Consequences of oil boom felt on Midland, Odessa roadways
What does an oil boom mean for the Midland/Odessa area? With the economic upsurge, comes an influx of workers traveling to and from their destinations. Interstate 20 becomes congested with oil tankers and commercial trucks. While the Midland/Odessa area reaps the benefits of the economic upturn, residents and motorists face a new danger – an increase in traffic accidents.
That’s exactly what happened during the last boom, which took place between 2010 and 2016. Officer Aaron Smith of the Midland Police Department discussed the nature of these oil booms and the consequences it has on the area roadways. “When you increase the amount of traffic, inevitably it’s going to increase the amount of crashes that we see,” Smith said.
A recent Midland crash report documents the rise and fall of crash rates during that period.
- 2010: Just as the oil boom began, Midland had a total of 2,963 accidents – resulting in 835 injuries and 16 deaths.
- 2011: As traffic from the oil boom continued to increase, so did the number of accidents – 3,279 crashes resulting in 1,160 injuries and six deaths.
- 2012: Traffic accidents increased to 3,723 – resulting in 1,100 injuries and 16 deaths.
- 2013: While the total number of accidents dropped slightly from 2012, at 3,520, the number of injuries rose to 1,120 and deaths rose to 20.
- 2014: This year marked one of the worst one during the boom. Traffic accidents peaked at 4,013 – resulting in 1,284 injuries and 24 deaths.
- 2015: Traffic injuries peaked during this year. 3,602 crashes resulted in 10 deaths and a record 1,317 injuries.
- 2016: The final year of the boom saw traffic accidents decrease to 3,228 – with 1,102 injuries and 11 deaths.
The report also shows a sharp increase in crashes in 2017, the beginning of the current oil boom. There were 3,755 accidents with 1,403 injuries and 18 deaths.
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) reported that the Permian Basin experienced a total of 4,128 fatal and serious injury crashes and 320 traffic fatalities in 2012. An uptick in 2013 saw a total of 4,411 fatal and serious injury crash and 365 traffic fatalities. “When the price of oil goes up, our population goes up, and traffic counts go up,” Smith said.
Odessa America called 2012 “the year of the wreck” for Odessa. The city experienced a total of 2,315 auto accidents, with 14 of them being fatal, resulting in 18 deaths. These numbers increased from 2011 (2,245 accidents) and 2010 (1875 accidents).
Solutions to the problem
In order to keep up with the current oil boom, area drilling companies are in dire need of truck drivers. However, many truckers who lost their jobs after the last oil bust are no longer interested in returning to the industry. The trucker shortage could pose a real danger to area motorists. Oil drillers will likely hire inexperienced, unqualified drivers to meet the demand. Additionally, higher oil production will put pressure on drivers to deliver oil faster, which could result in speeding or skipping mandatory rest breaks.
The area has already experienced a recent increase in truck congestion on Interstate 20 as well as local routes. In response to concerns expressed by Odessa residents, the city has passed an ordinance banning semi trucks and trucks with tandem axles within the city limits. This means that large trucks will only be allowed to drive on Interstate 20 and Loop 338. In order to reach a destination or delivery point within Odessa, they must only take the shortest route possible.
The downside to this ordinance is an increase of highway truck traffic, which can put motorists traveling on Interstate 20 and Loop 338 at a higher risk of a serious motor vehicle accident.
What you can do to stay safe
The increase and decrease of traffic in greater Midland/Odessa has always come in waves. Oil booms turn roadways into a jumble of passenger vehicles, commercial trucks, oil tankers and semi trucks. It’s important that motorists and truckers follow safety precautions when taking to the roads of Midland and Odessa.
- Slow down: When Texas roads become congested, it can be difficult to predict when traffic will slow down or come to a complete stop. We have already seen devastating accidents, such as an underride accident that killed an Odessa driver late last year.
- Watch for signs and follow the rules: Stop signs, yield signs, traffic lights and other signals are designed to keep traffic flowing safely. A recent fatal accident that happened in Midland, when a passenger vehicle collided with a large truck, is a reminder that obeying road rules can save lives.
- Drive sober: Drunk driving and drugged driving cause delays in judgment and reaction time. MRT reports that Odessa and Midland top the list of Texas cities with the highest rate of drunk driving fatalities. Odessa ranked number one with 6.26 fatalities per 100,000 residents, followed by Midland which experienced 6.19 fatalities per 100,000 residents.
- Pay attention: Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of auto accidents, accounting for 19 percent (100,687 of 537,475) of Texas crashes, according to Odessa America. In response, TxDOT is partnering with AT&T to launch the ‘It Can Wait’ campaign on May 1st. In 2017 alone, Odessa experienced 243 traffic accidents caused by distracted driving.
- Keep your distance and stay out of blind spots: The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) offers some tips on how to avoid an accident with a big rig, including keeping your distance. This includes staying 30 feet behind the trailer, 20 feet ahead of the cab and two lanes away (if you can). If you’re going to pass a truck, pass quickly and stay out of the truck’s blind spots.
- Get some rest or stay off the road: A recent AAA report found that drowsy driving accounts for nearly 10 percent of traffic accidents. Truck drivers who spend numerous hours on the road, shift workers, parents of young children and people with sleeping disorders are at a great risk of falling asleep at the wheel.
Practicing these safeguards can greatly reduce your chances of being injured or killed in a crash. However, that doesn’t guarantee that others will drive safely and responsibly. If the actions of a negligent motorist or truck driver caused your crash, you may be wondering what to do next. You could be severely injured and forced to spend time away from work to undergo a lengthy, expensive recovery.
The roads of the Permian Basin can be dangerous during an oil boom. That’s why you should seek the advice of an experienced, Texas truck accident attorney. For more than 30 years, Herrera Law Firm has helped injured motorists maximize their compensation and get the right care. We work on a contingency fee basis. That means you don’t pay unless we win.
Contact us today for a free, confidential case evaluation. We’re ready to fight for you every step of the way.