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Zurik: State hopes to have oil tank warning rule passed by end of the year

Published: Oct. 28, 2021 at 10:00 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Eight months after an explosion of an oil tank in Southwest Louisiana killed a teenage girl, a state agency hopes to have a new rule in place soon that could prevent another child from being injured or killed.

The proposed rule to add warning signage and fencing around the tanks was proposed following the February 28 death of Zalee Day Smith in Ragley, La. The rule changes, proposed by the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Conservation, would apply to tank batteries located within a city, close to a highway, home, school or church, like the one that killed Smith.

The safety measures would include forcing companies to build a fence at least four feet high around the tank site with a lock attached. The rule also states hatches not used for pressure relief are to be sealed and warning signage to be placed next to the tank or ladder.

The Office of Conservation held a public hearing and allowed letters to be submitted about the rule change. Three letters were received in support of the changes, no comments were submitted against the rules.

One of those letters was from Geri Perkins, from Baton Rouge.

“The death of Zalee rocked my family and friends,” Perkins wrote in her letter. “She was too young to die, let alone die such a violent and sudden death.”

Perkins said her family is from the area where Zalee lived and had relatives who would play on that same site. She said what happened to Zalee could have happened to any child in the area.

“There was nothing,” Perkins said. “It looked like an abandoned storage facility on a piece of a field. And I don’t know if you can remember back from when you were a kid, but that looks like a playground.”

That neighborhood playground of sorts was a tank battery that neighbors believed to be harmless, plugged and safe. Zalee’s family now knows the site was a discarded danger that proved to be deadly.

“Her body was so crushed we had to have a closed casket,” Maxwell Smith, Zalee’s father, said. “That’s ridiculous to have to have a fence around a swimming pool... but you don’t have to have one around an explosive volatile oil field site. What happened here?!”

The Office of Conservation sent the proposed regulations to a state legislative committee and hope to have action taken on the rules by the end of the year.

Perkins believes the state’s rules are a start, but oil companies need to also be held accountable.

These corporations, they have deep pockets, and you’re going to put an oil tank on someone’s property or near someone’s property near a church. Children don’t know these things,” Perkins said. “Why aren’t they liable? They need to be responsible for their actions. You can’t put something so dangerous, near people who aren’t educated about it and just say, flip a coin, you know?”

During the comment period, the state Office of Conservation received no letters of opposition to the new rules and no comment from the oil and gas industry.

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