Well Site Safety Day took place last week at the Oklahoma State Capitol to raise awareness about some of the dangers present at well sites.
The Oklahoma Energy Resources Board (OERB) started this tradition in 2004 as part of its overall well site safety program, which started in 1996.
A year before, a tragic event left a southwest Oklahoma community in mourning and spurred the oil and natural gas industry to take action. Three 13-year-old boys in Duncan, Okla. had ridden their bicycles to a wooded area near their homes and were playing by oil storage tanks when the tanks exploded, killing all three.
After the accident, the OERB decided to develop a program to help prevent any more of these tragedies. They made it part of their mission to spread the word about the dangers of playing around oil field equipment.
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
The OERB’s well site safety program got its start in 1996 with a video called “Play it Smart,” which featured Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, head coach Barry Switzer and several NFL players, including Emmitt Smith, encouraging kids to stay away from well sites while talking about the dangers.
Copies of the video were sent to every library and school in the state and were also provided to every teacher who had been through one of the OERB’s energy education workshops. The teachers were encouraged to show the video to their students when using the OERB’s hands-on science programs.
Public service announcements were developed from the video content, and several television stations ran the PSAs at no cost.
In 2002, a new well site safety campaign, called “What’s the Risk?,” was created and included television, radio and print advertising for the first time. This campaign also began to include free folders and posters that teachers could use in their classrooms. These materials were a way to get the messaging into classrooms, and in front of students, each day.
Today, the OERB has two annual advertising campaigns. “Duh-Duh Dangerous” is geared toward kindergarten through sixth-grade students and “Lucky” is targeted to teenagers. These commercials air on age-appropriate television channels, radio stations and movie theaters across the state. Always optimizing with the times, the campaigns now have a heavy online presence with their own interactive websites that include games, downloadable materials and social media ads.
The OERB continues to send thousands of free safety folders and posters into classrooms each year and also offers free DVDs of the safety messages. In fact, the OERB has spent more than $8 million on well site safety programming to date.
WHAT ARE THE DANGERS?
Oilfield equipment on production sites, which are put in place after a well is drilled, often present the most danger for children. Despite warning signs and fences, trespassers can easily access these sites, which often include a pumping unit, oil storage tanks and other equipment.
Pumping units, or pump jacks, can look like a teeter-totter, or even a horse. These can be tempting for kids to play on, but they are very dangerous. They may appear to be off or out of service, but are often on timers and can start up at any moment, sometimes several times a day. The counterweights weigh as much as 20,000 pounds and will crush a human body without stopping — it’s even heavy enough to crush a car. Also, pumping units have electrical boxes and components that operate at a high voltage and present a risk for serious electrical shock.
Storage tanks also present a great hazard. These tanks hold oil and natural gas produced from the wellbore and the fumes and liquids are very flammable. The smallest spark — even static electricity — can cause these big tanks to explode.
There are many other dangers often present on a well site, which is why it’s important to educate kids about why they should stay away.
WELL SITE SAFETY DAY
Every spring, as the weather warms up and more kids are playing outdoors, the OERB reminds kids about the dangers of playing around well sites with a statewide art contest and a Well Site Safety Day held annually in April.
Each year, the OERB asks students to submit their best original artwork showcasing well site safety messaging. Children in kindergarten to second grade participate in a coloring contest and third to sixth-grade students draw and color a poster with a catchy slogan. Twenty-one winners are selected out of more than 3,000 submissions. Their artwork is put on display at the Oklahoma State Capitol on Well Site Safety Day, where they have the opportunity to meet their legislators and are recognized for their dedication to spreading the message about staying away from well sites.
In addition, middle school and high school students are asked to create a print advertisement or Snapchat geofilter to promote well site safety. Two winners are selected and receive gift cards and an exciting school assembly hosted by the OERB.
CONTINUING THE WORK
Well site safety is at the heart of the OERB’s education mission. This year, we will begin to once again update the advertising campaigns for both elementary and high school. Through voluntary funding from Oklahoma’s oil and natural gas industry, this investment is a part of the continued efforts to do everything possible to spread the word about the dangers of well sites. If one child is spared injury due to the work of these safety programs, every dollar spent will have been well worth it.