Elbert County fire chiefs want security at oil drilling sites

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The fire chiefs association of Elbert County weighed in on local regulations for oil and gas activities in hopes of upping security protocols.

The end goal is to ensure tragedies that have plagued drilling sites across the nation do not happen in Elbert County, said Kara Gerczynski, Elizabeth Fire Protection District fire marshal.

Gerczynski on March 26 presented the association’s preliminary recommendations to Elbert County commissioners with a presentation that detailed tank explosions in Texas, Oklahoma and Mississippi. The explosions resulted from young trespassers at production sites who lit a lighter in an attempt to peer into a storage tank.

In the 26 incidents Gerczynski researched, ignition of the vapors in the tank has caused 44 fatalities and 25 injuries. All of the people involved in the incidents were younger than 25 years old, she said.

“These sites are basically unmanned,” Gerczynski said. “Nobody is there after drilling is done. I would like to get ahead of this so that (Elbert County is) not on this list of fatalities and injuries.”

The American Petroleum Institute writes codes for sites, but the codes that address fencing do not apply to tanks used at sites such as those expected in Elbert County, Gerczynski said. The fire chiefs association established a preliminary list of security recommendations in an effort to dissuade young people from using the production sites as a place to “hang out,” she said.

The recommendations include a locked, 6-foot security fence around the storage tanks and pumps; locking ladders on the catwalk, which provides access to peer into the tanks; and warning signs to caution people about the danger at the site.

The chiefs recommend that exploration companies adhere to an annual permit review to ensure security measures remain on site for the duration of exploration.

“I’m looking at taking a proactive approach so that our community is safe,” Gerczynski said. “I think we should see these regulations come down as these sites come into Elbert County.”

Commissioners asked for a draft of the chiefs’ recommendations, conceding that the sites could prove irresistible to teens.

Commissioner Robert Rowland recalled spending summers in southern Illinois, which was rife with similar exploration sites.

“We used to climb those and do exactly what you’re describing,” Rowland said. “We never used a lighter but it could easily have happened. It was a fun place to hang out.”

No place to hang out

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board produced a series of safety videos that includes footage from oil exploration disasters. Among the videos is “No Place to Hang Out: The Danger of Oil Sites.”

To view this and other videos, visit the board’s website at www.csb.gov and select the “view all” button under featured videos