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Increase in fracking trucks has drawbacks

Increase in fracking trucks has drawbacks

CADIZ, Ohio — The warning signs and convoys of semi trucks have become part of the landscape in eastern Ohio’s shale country, where a drilling surge has brought more big rigs to rural roads.

Oil and gas truck traffic ahead.

The orange placards and the trucks they portend might be the clearest sign yet of the dual role locals say the region’s oil and gas industry has assumed as both economic engine and potential danger for drivers sharing winding two-lane roads with 18-wheelers.

Those trucks haul stone, heavy equipment used to build well pads, drilling rigs and other materials. And tanker trucks are transporting water needed in the hydraulic fracturing process and the fracking wastewater that flows back up from the wells.

“It’s been an economic boon for our county,” said Dale Norris, a Harrison County commissioner. “It’s got its good and its bad.”

Among the bad: a recent uptick in the number of crashes involving semi trucks in eastern Ohio counties and faster wear-and-tear onset because of the heavier traffic on roads.

State and local officials say the drilling companies have done their part to help. They host safety meetings for trucking companies and meet state requirements for building and maintaining roads that can handle trucks.

But the Ohio Department of Transportation is spending more on road repairs in eastern Ohio, and the State Highway Patrol is trying to figure out how to contend with the increase in semi-truck crashes.

“We knew it was coming,” said Sgt. Greg McCutcheon, who acts as a liaison between the patrol and drilling companies. “We’ve seen some of the other states kind of battle the changes in their community.”

Crashes in the shale region started to climb during the third quarter of last year, McCutcheon said. In the 24-county area where the state has licensed wells, semi-truck crashes increased by about 14 percent between 2013 and 2014. Statewide, truck crashes jumped by 23 percent in the same period.

McCutcheon said that as pipelines are built to transport oil and natural gas from Ohio, even more trucks probably will be transporting heavy machinery and materials on the rural roads. Natural gas is transported from the wells via pipeline, but any oil or condensate is transported by truck.

Some routes near processing facilities already have seen as many as 500 additional trucks a day, according to ODOT. For example, an additional 100 to 500 trucks a day were seen on Rt. 43 in Carroll County in 2013, the latest data available, compared with three years earlier.

Norris said calls to a local emergency medical service for response to truck crashes have been increasing, too.

Rig operators offer regular training on safe-driving practices and communicate with local governments and law enforcement agencies to prioritize safety, Rhonda Reda, the executive director of the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program, said in a statement.

“Absolutely, there’s more truck traffic in that area of the state than there has been in the past,” said ODOT Director Jerry Wray. “Whenever you have more traffic, that’s more conflict and more opportunity for crashes.”

State routes are designed to handle the increased traffic, he said, but the influx of heavier vehicles will cause the roads to break down faster. Where the roads are not designed to handle trucks, drilling companies must strike maintenance agreements with local governments.

In its eight-county eastern Ohio district, ODOT has increased spending on pavement and guardrail maintenance in each of the past three years. Truck tires rolling over the edges of narrow roads, for example, are wearing out those edges faster, said Lloyd MacAdam, the district’s deputy director.

“We have a finite amount of money to work with,” Wray said. “Everything we do is at the expense of something else.”

More traffic backups on rural routes and deeper potholes have become common in Harrison County, said Kathy Cusick, a Cadiz resident who runs a downtown gift shop. Oversize trucks chug through the small town’s city center, she said, but they are a sign of an improved regional economy.

“We have never had truck traffic like we have now,” Cusick said. “They go right through town.”

Cadiz Mayor Ken Zitko said income-tax collections have increased amid shale development, and the area is a hub of truck traffic because of the convergence of Rts. 9, 22 and 250.

To accommodate the extra traffic, Harrison County has had to relax its “frost laws,” which reduced load ratings on roads from November to April, said Robert Sterling, county engineer.

Drilling companies have signed maintenance agreements to pay for upgrades and upkeep on roads they use, he said.

Those agreements are required to receive a well permit under a 2012 state law. The state has approved or is in the process of approving agreements for 408 horizontal well pads. Agreements aren’t required at 175 pads that predate the law.

“These roads are used to get to any county or township road they might be drilling on. They are used a lot,” said state Rep. Jack Cera, a Bellaire Democrat whose district covers part of eastern Ohio. “We have only so many main roads or state highways in our area.”

Upgrading from gravel or chip-seal to fully paved road surfaces is important to move truck traffic, he said, but that leaves cash-strapped townships and counties with a more-expensive asset to maintain when the drilling is done.

“They’re not just fixing it up because they’re nice people,” he said. “They’re fixing them up because they can’t get to the site without them.”

rrouan@dispatch.com

@RickRouan

Source: The Columbus Dispatch

By: Rick RouanThe Columbus Dispatch  •  Sunday March 29, 2015 6:06 AM

LINK: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2015/03/29/increase-in-trucks-has-drawbacks.html

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