Well, Texas A&M has gone and put out what is possibly the most obvious "finding" ever issued by government-funded researchers: When oil fields start booming, there are more traffic accidents and they're more expensive. (In other stunningly obvious news, puppies are cute and Thai food is delicious.)
Right now, oil prices are in the toilet and the big oil booms that were fueled by the the explosion of drilling in shale plays, including the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas, the Barnett Shale in North Texas and the Permian Basin in West Texas, are drying up the way most oil fields do when a boom goes bust. So, of course, this was the perfect time for the Texas A&M Transportation Institute to come out with a study called "New Findings: More New Oil and Gas Wells, More Crashes and Injury Costs."
The government-funded study looked at two different time frames, from 2006 to 2009 and 2010 to 2013 in the Permian Basin, Barnett Shale, and Eagle Ford Shale regions. And, oh boy, the researchers discovered some shocking (in this parlance "shocking" is code for the super-obvious-well-duh conclusions) findings.
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For those who've already forgotten we ever had a hydraulic fracturing-fueled oil boom in Texas, let's review: It started with drillers using slant drilling and fracking to shatter the dense, brittle rock of the Barnett Shale to get at the natural gas trapped in the formation in the early part of the decade. Then, after a glut of natural gas dragged down the price, drillers turned to the Eagle Ford and the Permian Basin and started using the fracking approach to get at the crude oil trapped in those formations. So in the early years North Texas was full of oil field traffic and then, when the Eagle Ford and the Permian Basin started booming, all of the oil field traffic started thundering down the highways and pounding into and through all the little towns that were sitting on top of the oil.
Now some might argue that these facts on their own preclude any need to actually study things to find out what happened in the Barnett, the Eagle Ford and the Permian Basin when a whole bunch of traffic comprised of impatient people driving trucks and 18-wheelers (aka the oil field) started flooding into each of these areas, but just in case anyone needed hard answers about this now we have them. So what happened? Well, according to Texas A&M, when the number of new wells increased in each area the number of rural crashes involving commercial vehicles also shot up, as did the total cost of crash injuries. When the number of wells dropped, the number of commercial vehicle crashes and the total cost of crash injuries also dropped.
So sure, oil prices are low and there have been thousands of energy company layoffs this year, but we now have one distinct bright side: Fewer rural traffic accidents.
Hey, it's not much, but it's something.