Midland-Odessa Region Leads in Commercial Vehicle Deaths, As Oilfield Truck Crashes Surge in Permian Basin

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The Texas Department of Transportation’s Odessa District now leads the state in commercial vehicle fatalities, thanks to a staggering increase in oilfield truck crashes throughout the region.

Odessa District Commercial Vehicle Fatalities Up 122% Since 2016

A dozen counties spanning the oil-rich Permian Basin make up the Odessa District.

According to data from the Midland-Odessa Transportation Alliance (MOTRAN), commercial vehicle crashes in the largely rural, sparsely populated region rose by 160% in just the past three years. Commercial vehicle fatalities also increased by 122% during the same period.

Four Odessa District counties – Ector, Midland, Reeves, and Winkler – were among 10 Texas counties with the most fatal commercial vehicle crashes in 2018. Ector County, including the city of Odessa, took second place, with 21 deadly crashes. That’s 8 less than either Harris or Dallas County, which tied for first.

Sixteen fatal crashes put Midland County in the third spot, while Reeves and Bexar County shared fifth place, with 13 each. Winkler County ranked 6th, with 11 deadly commercial vehicle accidents in 2018.

Midland-Odessa Flooded with Inexperienced Oilfield Truck Drivers

Serious and fatal commercial vehicle crashes began rising throughout the Midland-Odessa region in 2016, just as the drilling frenzy began to ramp up. The unprecedented Permian Basin oil boom attracted thousands of new workers to west Texas, including many oilfield truck drivers unfamiliar with the area’s narrow, and often dangerous, rural roads and highways.

“Pneumatic trucks take a little more training, but sandbox trucks, all you need is a CDL,” one veteran drive recently told FreightWave.com. “So, we are getting a lot of these over-the-road drivers coming and driving the sandboxes – when they get out here to the oil patches, they are not used to these road conditions.”

These drivers can command wages as high as $100,000 per year in the Permian Basin. But many drilling companies push their truckers to work 12-hour stretches, six days a week, alternating between day and night shifts. As a result, oilfield truck drivers are often far too exhausted to safely operate their vehicles, regardless of their experience level.

Odessa District Needs $500 Million Infrastructure Investment

A single well can require 1,000 trucks to haul sand, water, and equipment to and from the drill site. As a result, roads throughout the Odessa District rank among the most congested and treacherous in Texas.

“Some of the greatest increases in road traffic among our roads are our rural roads, the roads that connect to larger towns and cities,” Department of Public Safety Spokesperson Sgt. Oscar Villarreal recently told the Odessa American. “In the Permian Basin area there’s a significant increase in crashes along I-20, U.S. Highway 285, State Highway 302 and the range of crashes go from minor crash to fatality.”

None of the roadways mentioned by Sgt. Villarreal were designed to handle as much traffic as they’re currently experiencing on a daily basis.  In fact, most experts believe the Midland-Odessa region’s staggering death toll from oilfield truck crashes and other commercial vehicle accidents won’t start to ebb without a major investment in infrastructure.

“$500 million over the next 2 to 5 years in the Odessa District sounds like a lot of money,” MOTRAN president James Beauchamp told NewsWest9 earlier this year. “But when you look at $835 million in increased severance taxes from this same area just between 2017 and 2018, and over a $700 million gain in sales tax revenue during that time, this is probably one of the best investments the State of Texas could make.”

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