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Zurik: Tank battery warning requirement goes into effect following deadly explosion

Published: Nov. 23, 2021 at 10:00 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 23, 2021 at 10:29 PM CST
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WVUE) - Nine months after an explosion of a tank battery in Southwest Louisiana that claimed the life of a fourteen-year-old girl, the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources announced a new rule is now in effect that could prevent another tragedy.

The explosion on Feb. 28, 2021, in rural Beauregard Parish killed Zalee Day Smith. Her family said kids in the area used the abandoned tank battery as a neighborhood playground. They thought the site was safe. A tank battery is used for storage for oil wells that can contain hundreds or thousands of gallons of crude oil, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

“She went 200 feet in the air and 400 yards in distance,” Maxwell Smith, Zalee’s father, said in July.

At the time, those abandoned tank batteries had no fencing, nothing to alert the neighborhood they could be in danger.

“These wells are sitting here and the valves aren’t chained off, locked off, there’s no fence,” Smith said. “Children can go up there and turn those things on -- it’s ridiculous how the oilfield has gotten away with this. I don’t know how they got away with it.”

The Louisiana Department of Natural Resources announced this week that a new rule has gone into effect for sites like the one in Beauregard Parish.

“We may never know exactly what happened on that site when Zalee died and accidents of that kind may be rare, but we have to do what we can to minimize the chances of it ever happening again by doing more to make people aware of potential hazards and keep them off these sites if they don’t belong there,” Richard Ieyoub, Louisiana Commissioner of Conservation, said.

The new rule requires tank battery sites to have a fence at least four feet high around the site with a locked gate. DNR also requires that all tank battery hatches, except those used for pressure relief, should be securely sealed when the site is unmanned. The rule also requires that signage be placed at the site warning of hazards such as flammable contents.

Zalee’s father has been pushing the state to make these changes that he hopes will prevent any other parent to go through the pain he’s suffered over the past nine months.

“There’s no way to describe the pain,” Smith said. “I was at her grave at 4 o’clock this morning. I couldn’t sleep. I got up, I went to her grave and I just talked with her and told her what I was going to do and I’m trying my best to be able to look up and know that she’s proud of me. That her life wasn’t wasted for nothing.”

The new state rule applies to any tank battery if it is: located within a city, or located within 500 feet of a home or highway, or 1,000 feet of a church or school.

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