Increased Drilling in the Permian Basin Means More Truck Traffic and More Injuries and Fatalities in New Mexico

Permian Basin Oil Truck Accident Lawyers

Aerial View of Part of the Permian BasinThe Permian Basin shale patch is a highly productive oil and natural gas field that stretches across southeast New Mexico and southwest Texas, but it holds the potential to produce much more. In fact, less than 30 percent of its wells have been developed so far. As the United States looks to lower its reliance on international fossil fuels, many companies are eyeing this patch for further development. While more supply means lower prices at the pump, residents of Eddy and Lea Counties in New Mexico are being forced to pay an even higher price—their lives and well-being. That’s because US Route 285—already dubbed Death Highway because of the dangerous truck traffic that has been moving through the region for years—will likely become even more hazardous with increased oil drilling.

The truck accident attorneys at Keller & Keller in Albuquerque have been fighting for victims of truck accidents across New Mexico for decades. As truck traffic increases in the Permian Basin region, we are standing by to represent the innocent victims of negligent truck drivers, trucking companies, and oil giants.

Why Oilfield Traffic Is So Deadly—and Getting Worse

Historically, the section of Route 285 between Carlsbad and Pecos, TX, carried agricultural traffic and travelers—and not much of that. Traffic fatality statistics show that traffic deaths along Route 285 began to increase as oil production in the Permian Basin grew. Statistics show that highway deaths in the area increase when oil prices are high and production ramps up, and they decrease when demand for fossil fuels is down. In early 2022, due to various international events and economic challenges, the demand for domestic oil and natural gas production shot up, and all eyes turned to Texas and New Mexico. Several factors make this a threat to anyone passing through the area on Route 285, including:

  • Increased traffic. Trucks carry oil and natural gas out of the basin and sand, water, steel pipes, machinery, and supplies into the basin. As new rigs are set up, and pipelines are laid, more trucks are needed to haul goods in and out. The increase in traffic volume makes it much more dangerous for the farmers, ranchers, and commuters who have to travel in the area.
  • Truck driver shortage. A critical nationwide truck driver shortage means that inexperienced drivers looking to make easy money are taking jobs driving semi-trucks, dump trucks, fuel tankers, and other complicated vehicles. Oilfield driving is highly specialized because of the many hazards it presents. New drivers are getting on-the-job training and risking others’ lives.
  • Poor road conditions. Route 285 and other rural highways across New Mexico were not designed or built for as much heavy traffic as they are now seeing. Road repair is a never-ending battle, with drivers reporting sinkholes caused by fracking that are several feet wide. New Mexico cannot repair and widen the roads fast enough to keep up with growth.
  • Overworked drivers. Around-the-clock demand means that drivers are working 14-hour days for ten or more days in a row. They are tired and distracted and often speed to earn more money.
  • Poorly maintained trucks. Oilfield work takes a toll on trucking equipment, but the resources are not there to repair and replace damaged components. As a result, drivers continue to use rigs that are not safe to drive. Truck tires are a source of many accidents, especially in the heat of a New Mexico summer.

If you were injured or a loved one was killed by a truck coming from or going to the oilfield, it is likely that one of these factors played a part, meaning you would have a strong case for negligence. Contact Keller & Keller in Albuquerque to learn more about your rights.

Semi truck driving down Permian Basin highway

Types of Truck Traffic in the Permian Basin

Oilfields require a range of vehicle types on-site and coming and going around the clock. Each type of truck poses specific risks to other drivers. Typical oilfield support vehicles include:

  • Big rigs. A general term for a tractor-trailer or semi-truck, these trucks haul everything from sand to material goods. Drivers must have a commercial driver’s license and are subject to federal laws, including hours of service rules.
  • Fuel tankers. The crude oil or natural gas that is extracted from the wells is carried out in HazMat tankers, and they are also used to truck in the fuel needed to run operations on the oilfield as well. When these vehicles crash, residents for miles around could be harmed.
  • Dump trucks. Heavy dump trucks are used to haul in sand for fracking and to haul out refuse. These drivers do not require special training or equipment, making them particularly dangerous. Tow trucks are also commonplace on oilfields and also pose a risk.
  • Pick-up trucks and SUVs. Whether company-owned or private vehicles, pick-ups and SUVs carrying workers to and from the oilfields also add to the increased traffic in the area. These drivers are often overtired and distracted and can cause crashes as well.

Drivers of these trucks could be oil company employees, independent contractors, or third-party employees. They could be covered by an employer’s insurance policy or their own. These issues make negligence claims against them more complicated.

Potential Injuries Caused by Oilfield Vehicle Crashes

A collision at highway speeds with any vehicle that is larger and heavier than yours—particularly if it is a massive semi-truck—will cause serious injuries. Common injuries we see in truck crashes include:

  • Broken bones. The impact of a truck crash can shatter bones that are very difficult to heal, including ribs or collar bones, the pelvis, hip bones, and leg bones. Recovery could require surgery to repair and months of rehabilitation to get back on your feet.
  • Head and brain injuries. Even when there is no direct impact to the head, the force of a collision with a truck can cause the brain to be shaken up inside the skull, resulting in swelling, brain bleeds, and permanent cognitive damage.
  • Spinal cord damage. Injury to the bones, muscles, or nerves of the spinal column can cause permanent partial or complete paralysis. This kind of injury is life-changing and requires millions of dollars in medical treatment, adaptive devices, and personal care over a lifetime.
  • Burns. A collision with any truck could cause a vehicle fire, but fuel tankers are a particular danger to motorists. Severe burns not only cause scarring and disfigurement but can permanently damage the lungs, making breathing difficult for life.
  • Loss of limbs. Arms, legs, hands, and feet can be crushed or burned so badly in a truck crash that they must be amputated. The force of impact in some truck crashes could sever limbs, leaving the victim with a lifelong disability.
  • Internal injuries. While they may save an occupant’s life, seat belts and airbags can also impact the body in such a way during a collision that internal organs such as the bladder, spleen, liver, kidneys, or bowels are damaged. These injuries are often life-threatening and require emergency surgery and a lifetime of medication and care.

Of course, any of these injuries could ultimately result in a fatality. Catastrophic injury and wrongful death claims are difficult to pursue, and we recommend talking to a personal injury attorney before talking to anyone else involved in the accident.

Why You Need an Attorney

A crash involving a Permian Basin truck will be complicated by a number of factors. There could be multiple liable parties, multi-billion-dollar corporations could be involved, and teams of lawyers will likely fight your claim. Tragically, many of these crashes are fatal, meaning family members might have cause to file a wrongful death claim. In non-fatal crashes, injuries are often catastrophic, which also complicates a claim. We cannot stress enough how important it is that you have an experienced personal injury and wrongful death attorney on your side as soon as possible after the crash.

James R. Keller
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Partner at Keller & Keller