Exploratory drilling for Niobrara oil will likely surpass anything seen before in southeast Wyoming. Combined with a possible resurgence in natural gas drilling, the newly formed Wyoming Oil and Gas Industry Safety Alliance has plenty of opportunities to promote safe practices.

The group is already talking about putting its support behind a primary seatbelt law, and potentially supporting a bill calling for a statewide speed limit on county roads that currently have no speed limits.

One key piece of evidence the industry must consider: Of 140 vehicle fatalities in Wyoming in 2008, 71 percent were not wearing a seatbelt.

The equipment and service necessary for drilling a tight-sands natural gas or Niobrara oil well requires large trucks to carry in the drilling rig, drill pipe, living trailers, tons of mud, millions of gallons of water and a steady flow of pickups to shuttle workers.

And more trucks if they do strike oil.

Currently, there’s no network of pipelines necessary to move large volumes of water or “gather” oil to larger transport lines in southeast Wyoming.

Unlike the Jonah and Pinedale Anticline natural gas fields, which are relatively concentrated over a small area, the Niobrara play could span several hundred square miles where roads were not built in anticipation of such heavy truck traffic.

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Tim Ryan is Wyoming’s new occupational epidemiologist, charged with analyzing workplace accident data to determine how to improve the state’s worst-in-the-nation workplace fatality rate.

Last week, Ryan told me that the potential traffic increase in the Niobrara oil play is among his top concerns, especially considering that other drilling booms in North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Texas have temporarily anchored the industry’s most experienced workers.

“Because of other (drilling) booms, there’s a huge shortage of people and a lot of new people coming in,” said Ryan.

Transportation and vehicle safety is among Wyoming Oil and Gas Industry Safety Alliance’s top priorities, according to the group’s leaders. The group is leaning toward again supporting a primary seatbelt law, a measure that has been brought before the state legislature many times.

Last week, Rep. Mary Throne, D-Cheyenne, spoke at the group’s second annual safety conference and said she’s puzzled why more people don’t demand a primary seatbelt law.

“If you support a primary seatbelt law, I wish you’d tell your legislators,” said Throne. “Government intrusion? We’re talking about putting a seatbelt on, not taking away guns.”

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