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Alaskan Oil: Great for the Economy, Bad for Wrecks

February 28, 2017

In the fall of 2016, a small, private equity-backed energy company discovered approximately 6 billion barrels of oil in the northernmost part of Alaska. This discovery could boost the Alaskan economy in a big way after the past three decades saw a decline in statewide oil production, which occurred even as the United States continued to try and reduce its overall dependence on foreign oil by turning to domestic energy sources.

After drilling companies begin to extract the oil, though (which experts say might not happen for several years), all of it eventually has to be transported to refiners by oil tankers. With an increased numbers of tanker trucks on the road, it’s very likely that Alaska will see higher numbers of large truck crashes — which means the big oil strike of 2016 could turn out to be something of a mixed blessing for Alaskan drivers.

Why Oil Matters for Alaska

Oil is a fixture of our daily lives. Besides the gasoline that we pump into our vehicles — which is a refined form of crude oil — we also use oil to make thousands of petroleum-based products. Just a few of those include:

  • Clothes
  • Mops
  • Shaving cream
  • Bike tires
  • Insect repellent
  • Car battery cases
  • Umbrellas
  • Antifreeze
  • Refrigerators
  • Dentures

Not only that, but oil plays an especially critical role in the day-to-day lives of Alaska residents. According to CNBC, 90 percent of state government jobs and one-third of state jobs depend on oil revenue in some way.

When the crude oil supply dwindled over the past few years, Alaskan lawmakers initiated talks to make drastic budget cuts that would include closing schools and hospitals in remote parts of the state. The stark reality of these cuts might cause a population shift in the state and would inevitably change the economic face of Alaska.

For obvious reasons, then, many Alaskans greeted last year’s massive crude oil discovery — the largest oil find in the state in years, according to experts — with cheers and relief. But the benefits to the Alaskan economy and statewide gas prices are only one part of the equation when it comes to how this find will affect drivers in Alaska.

Oil Transport and Truck Wrecks: Are They Inseparable?

After companies extract crude oil from the ground, they have to transport it to a refinery, often in a different part of the state or country. Sometimes they accomplish this through a pipeline or by rail, but more often, they pump it into tanker trucks and transport it via our highways.

Tanker trucks have many benefits over other modes of oil transport. They rely on fewer people, can be sent on short notice, and can access locations that rail or pipelines can’t. The biggest disadvantage to using tanker trucks, however, is the fact that they add large and potentially dangerous vehicles to our public roads.

When a big oil tanker truck crashes, innocent people can suffer greatly. These massive trucks are usually some of the largest and heaviest vehicles on the road, even among other commercial trucks; they often weigh as much as 80,000 pounds. When these vehicles get involved in a wreck, they can create enormous damage and extremely severe injuries. Devastating oil-tanker wrecks are also far more common than most people would imagine; in fact, highway crashes are the number one cause of on-the-job fatalities for workers in the oil industry.

So why do oil tankers pose such a hazard on our highways? For one thing, oil is big business, and the possibility for hefty profits often creates an incentive to move oil as quickly as possible. Tanker truck drivers often face pressure from management to get the oil from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible, sometimes foregoing breaks and sleep — against federal truck-driving regulations — as necessary. This creates a dangerous situation for all who share the road for a few reasons:

  • Fatigued drivers have slower reaction times and are at an increased risk for an accident.
  • Oil is highly combustible, and when it leaks out of a damaged tanker, it can contaminate the environment near the accident site or even explode.
  • Hurried drivers may deviate from preplanned routes; however, not all roadways are designed to support heavy tanker trucks, so these route deviations can cause damage to roads and create dangerous situations.

In addition, the demand for more tanker-truck drivers may be hard to fill, as the trucking industry is already facing a shortage of drivers due to the retirement of existing drivers and a lack of young drivers entering the field to replace them. This could lead oil-transport companies to cut corners when it comes to hiring and training practices, putting inexperienced and potentially dangerous drivers behind the wheels of some of the largest and heaviest trucks on the road.

 In order to keep Alaskan drivers safe, companies that transport oil will need to be held accountable for any safety infractions, including hours-of-service violations, truck maintenance issues, and questionable driver hiring practices, in the coming years as Alaska’s oil discovery begins to make its way from the wells and starts to trickle into the state’s economy.

The Law Office of William D. Cook: Dedicated Representation for Truck Wreck Victims

If you or someone you know has been injured or killed in a truck wreck involving an oil tanker, semi truck, or other large commercial vehicle and you need legal representation, please call the Law Office of William D. Cook at (800) 757-7757 or fill out our convenient online form. We offer free consultations and counsel on a contingent-fee basis, which means you don’t pay a cent unless we achieve a monetary recovery in your case.

References

Cunningham, N. (2016, October 6). New mega oil discovery in Alaska could reverse 3 decades of decline. OilPrice.com. Retrieved from http://oilprice.com/Energy/Crude-Oil/New-Mega-Oil-Discovery-In-Alaska-Could-Reverse-3-Decades-Of-Decline.html

Urbina, I. (2012, May 14). Deadliest danger isn’t at the rig but on the road. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/15/us/for-oil-workers-deadliest-danger-is-driving.html?pagewanted=all

Wald, E. (2016, October 6). Alaska’s 10 billion barrel oil discovery: What you need to know. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/ellenrwald/2016/10/06/alaskas-10-billion-barrel-oil-discovery-what-you-need-to-know/#5229a99933dd

Wee, H. (2016, April 21). Amid oil price plunge, Alaska’s economy braces for losers and survivors. CNBC. Retrieved from http://www.cnbc.com/2016/04/21/amid-oil-price-plunge-alaskas-economy-braces-for-losers-and-survivors.html

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