Thursday, December 10, 2009

How to protect Bridges and Roads once Gas Drilling begins?

That's the question that town board members and highway superintendents have been puzzling out for the past few months. Highway superintendents from towns across our county have been meeting with town and county attorneys to discuss everything from crafting road laws to developing road use agreements.

The problem: once the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) adopts their rules for drilling in Marcellus and other shales, the drilling rigs will begin to move into NY in earnest. While no one knows how many wells to expect - the estimates range from 2,000 to 4,000 - there are 10 permit applications pending in my town alone. And we expect more..... lots more.

The concern is that the truck traffic associated with construction of the well pad and the drilling operations will damage local roads, leaving the taxpayer stuck with the bill. It's happened in other towns - one town is coping with over $300,000 in damages and another a mere $80,000 or so - and our town has experienced some road damage already. So now, before the heavy trucks come, is the time to hammer out the details.

Which is why earlier this week our town highway supervisor sat down with a group of town council members, planning board members, and citizens to go over language for a potential "road use agreement". The idea behind a road use agreement is that drilling companies and municipalities agree on truck routes prior to any well pad construction or drilling activity. It also lays out expectations for maintenance and reimbursement for road damage.

The DEC suggests in their supplementary Generic Environmental Impact Statement - the draft of the rules for drilling in Marcellus - that gas companies ought to consider local road use agreements. They don't require it.

But maybe they should. According to the DEC's own document it could take as many as 8900 truck trips to construct the drilling site and drill and frack a multi-well pad with 8 wells. These aren't pick-up trucks either; they're 18-wheelers weighted down with tons of equipment, chemicals or water.

Our highway super would like to give each gas company a list of acceptable truck routes. After all, who knows more about the roads than the guy who patches them and plows them? He also suggested that gas companies should complete a survey of all roads they will use prior to any activities.

One point he stressed is that gravel and seasonal roads cannot withstand the structural and functional damage that would result from heavy vehicle use.So if the gas companies are going to be driving out in the boonies - which pretty much describes most of the area around here - they will need to make improvements to the roads so their heavy trucks won't get bogged down. (Go to any talk on drilling in these parts and there's the obligatory slide of the bulldozer pulling an 18-wheeler up a very muddy, rutted rural road.)

Bridges and culverts are also an issue. Our town has 10 bridges that are large enough to be inspected by the state and, according to one town councilman (who served as highway superintendent years ago), it would take a minimum of  $1 million to repair one of those bridges.

“It’s not the weight," he says. Rather, it's the combination of weight and frequency of trips that damage a bridges. His solution: have drilling companies build truck by-passes. "That's a relatively inexpensive and quick solution,” he said. 

Just how many truck trips does it take to build a well?   
In chapter 6 of the SGEIS (section 11) DEC estimates the number of truck trips required for a multi-well pad ( 8-wells) in the Marcellus:

Drill pad & road construction equipment   10 – 45 trucks
Drilling rig                                                 60 trucks
Drilling fluid & materials                             200 – 400 trucks
Drilling equipment (casing, etc)                  200 – 400 trucks
Completion rig                                          30 trucks
Completion fluids & materials                    80 – 160 trucks
Completion equipment (pipe, wellhead)    10 trucks
Hydraulic fracture equipment                    300 – 400 trucks
Hydraulic fracture water                           3200 – 4800 tankers
Hydraulic fracture sand                             160 – 200 trucks
Flowback water removal                          1600 – 2400 tankers


  1. Hydraualic Fracture Water 3200 to 4800
    tankers? Good grief, how many gallons of
    water does one tanker hold? Can your area
    support such depletion? Surely they are not
    paying for fuel to haul it in from very far away.
    We have bought many sets of tires, and several
    re-alignments. Hope you get the rules in place
    before they start.

  2. Good heavens! This is shocking when you add this up. Those tankers are so huge. I've passed many of them, and they scare me. They can almost force you into a ditch if there is no shoulder, and many rural areas have nothing but ditches. (in PA where I have experienced this)

  3. Very useful information. Thank you!

  4. Most communities require road bonds by the operating company before using the roads. The gas company & the municipal official review the condition of the road prior to use and agree on a baseline condition. Upon completion of activities, the operating company & municipality reviews the conditions of the roads and makes any nessesary repairs. When the municipality is satisfied that the roads are in adequate condition, the municipality will release the bond. It is a pretty good system.