Hydraulic fracturing and extraction of oil and gas from Ohio's Utica shale beds requires movement of some heavy equipment over local roadways, in addition to sand-, water- and brine-laden trucks traveling to and from the drilling sites.
To address potential road damage and to keep the oil and gas company equipment rolling, the Ohio Department of Transportation and County Engineers Association have been working with oil and gas companies like Chesapeake Energy to develop a Road Use Maintenance Agreement (RUMA).
"A model agreement has been developed that includes requirements for companies to contact local governments and let them know when they're coming into a county and what routes they'll be using. It also provides for bonding of these companies," said Washington County Engineer Bob Badger.
He said shale drilling companies will consult with county engineers to review roadways, bridges and culverts to see if they can carry the loads and whether the spans are wide enough to accommodate turns by trucks carrying large equipment.
"These projects are so big that companies can't afford to lose their equipment or have it sinking into soft road surfaces, so it's to their advantage to work with the counties to keep the roadways in shape," Badger added.
He said drilling hasn't begun in Washington County yet, but where it has been under way in other Ohio counties, including Jefferson, Tuscarawas and Monroe, Badger said oil and gas companies are keeping roadways in great shape.
What's in a RUMA?
A model Road Use Maintenance Agreement (RUMA), presented during the March 9 annual Ohio Local Government Officials Conference in Columbus, recommended the following criteria be included to protect roadways that will be heavily used by shale drilling companies:
A clear definition of the needed route from a state road to the drilling pad.
Maintenance of the route by the company during the drilling activity.
Notification of the railroad industry if a crossing is involved.
Requirement for an engineering report, including videotaping of the route prior to drilling activities.
An appendix for county and/or township requirements which can be agreed upon with the drilling company.
Requirement for a list of 24-hour emergency contacts.
Source: Ohio Department of Transportation presentation.
Q&A: In some areas, conditions of roads has been a concern
Roadways and residents in Wetzel County, W.Va., have suffered from the beating area roads are taking due to heavy hydraulic fracturing equipment traveling to and from shale drilling sites throughout the county.
Rose Baker is with the Wetzel County Action Group, a grassroots organization of citizens concerned about the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on the county.
Q: Oil and gas companies have been drilling in Wetzel County for several years now. How has that affected the roadways?
A: When they first came in late 2007 there was a lot of heavy truck traffic, so it wasn't long before our blacktopped roads were turned into dirt. These roads were never built to handle that kind of traffic.
There are huge potholes in some areas large enough for a Volkswagen Beetle. People can't drive on some roads and have to take longer routes to get to work. We're also concerned about emergency vehicles being able to travel these roads.
Q: What kind of cargo are the company trucks carrying?
A: They carry earth-moving and drilling equipment, sand and water to and from the drilling sites. We counted 1,500 trucks in just one day on our little road which is about 15 miles east of New Martinsville (W.Va.).
We're also dealing with the pipeline companies.
Q: Does Wetzel County have a road maintenance agreement with the oil and gas companies?
A: Eventually the county did get a maintenance agreement, but it probably took them three years.
Since then Chesapeake Energy, the main company here, did pave Brock Ridge Road, a main access road to their drilling sites. But the paving only lasted about six months and the road was back in bad shape again.
The company has repaired Brock Ridge at least three times now, and it is currently in good shape. But other roads are needing repairs, too. Meanwhile the people here have to deal with terrible road conditions and damaged vehicles.
Q: What would help remedy the problem?
A: We think the main issue is a lack of enforcement. The West Virginia Department of Highways should be enforcing the rules of the road maintenance agreement. And we're not alone. This is happening in other areas of the state, too.
Sam Shawver conducted this interview.
And according to the road maintenance agreement, once well sites are developed and the heavy equipment moves out, companies will repair any roads impacted by the activity.
"But this drilling is not like what occurred in the 1970s and 80s," Badger noted. "These companies don't need as many well sites, so they won't be running helter-skelter over local roadways."
He said township roads could be greatly impacted by the fracking activity and the county engineer's office has offered to be the contact point between the companies and townships on issues pertaining to the Road Use Maintenance Agreement.
County Commissioner Cora Marshall said Washington County's road use agreement was approved by the commissioners March 29.
"But one downside is that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (which governs oil and gas drilling in the state) doesn't require this agreement to be signed by companies applying for drilling permits," she said. "We think that would be a good idea."
Ohio Department of Transportation District 10 spokeswoman Brenna Slavens said the district does not have a RUMA.
"Our roads have been developed to handle the loads that are expected from the shale drilling operations," she said. "But we will continually monitor the state roads for any potential damage."
Marietta officials are also considering a road use agreement. The city has already had some issues with fine sand used in the hydraulic fracturing process spilling onto streets from trucks hauling the substance to and from a local storage facility.
And some heavy drilling rigs are currently being stored at a facility located on Warner Street.
City engineer Joe Tucker said so far there have only been some very limited conversation about a possible agreement.
"But I think it would be a good thing for us to have," he said.