Tue., 12:21pm: Shale industry road damage upsets county commissioner

CADIZ – Harrison County Commissioner Dale Norris declared the honeymoon was over as he presented photographs of damaged county roads before the panel of oil and gas representatives at the monthly shale safety meeting held Monday at the Puskarich Library.

Heavy truck traffic begins as soon as a Marcellus gas well site is developed, according to officials. Heavy excavation equipment must be hauled in to grade the access road and level a multi-acre drilling pad. Then trucks haul in hundreds of tons of crushed stone for final construction of the road and drilling pad.

Multiple tractor-trailer loads then are required to haul in various parts of the drill rig, while later hauling away these same parts from the gas well site. The largest volume of truck traffic begins with the hydraulic fracturing of gas wells, especially if more than one well is fracked at the same time, officials said.

Studies indicate it can take anywhere from 400 to 1,300 truck trips to complete one gas well. Truck traffic will continue as the condensate tanks are periodically drained and the gas wells are maintained, officials said.

One Denton, Texas, study determined that for all three phases of gas well drilling, fracking and maintenance, approximately 592 one-way truck trips are required per well. Some individual trucks weighed as much as 80,000 to 100,000 pounds when fully loaded.

“Don’t get me wrong, I still feel the gas boom is a positive for the county and we have a good relationship with all of the companies doing business in Harrison County,” said Norris. “However, it is a relationship that should be based on mutual respect and I feel the county has been taken advantage of in several instances.”

Norris passed around a stack of photos from a weekend road tour of the county. Citing several county highways with sagging patches, culverts blocked by debris and rough travel, Norris said, “This is a safety concern for our citizens who travel these roads and we feel that it should be our primary focus to protect the taxpayers. I feel we should hold up all road-use maintenance agreements until the road work which has already been promised is done.”

“We never claimed we would have 100 percent compliance,” said Ryan Dean, senior coordinator of corporate development for Chesapeake Energy who responded to charges of vehicles using non-bonded routes to access sites and responsibility for contractors by their corporate employers. “It’s a blurry line. It is a little bit of science and a little bit of art.”

Norris stated the county has the option under Ohio Revised Code concerning reduction of weight and speed during times of thaws and moisture to reduce the weight limits on all county roads due to a documented excess of rainfall in the county.

Norris noted the county commissioners will consider a resolution in the next few weeks that would allow the county to assess charges for permits issued to oil and gas companies operating in the area.

“There is a cut on county Road 2, which has been over a year without being properly repaired,” Commissioner Don Bethel said. “We welcome the new industry and will assist them as much as possible but not at the expense of our taxpayers.

“I feel we have to address this now before it becomes a crisis,” Bethel added.

“There are sections of road that are currently so bad that it is already a safety hazard,” said county Road Superintendent Jim Albright. “The county is simply overwhelmed by the problem, we just do not have the manpower or equipment to keep up.”

Albright also reported a call from a concerned citizen about a tanker truck hauling residual waste that was leaking its load as it drove on a county highway.

“Enforcement of all these restrictions is also a problem,” said Sheriff Ronald J. Myers, “We only have so many units and deputies in Harrison County and we can’t be everywhere.

“We ask that when companies have meetings with their contractors to emphasize safety,” Myers added.

Anna M. Kuzmich, statewide shale coordinator for the Ohio Department of Transportation, said Ohio issues 1,800 permits daily. “These cover only state routes and we always explain that the drivers need to contact county and townships for permits on local roads.”

Kuzmich will invite a representative from the permit issuing department to the next shale safety meeting to discuss routing concerns.

ODOT also announced the launch of Behind the Barrel, a weekly maintenance report for the counties in the district.

Personnel from the Ohio Department of Homeland Security was in attendance to address well and pipeline safety. Dean Palmer, regional coordinator at the Strategic Analysis and Information Center in Columbus explained that local residents are the best tool to avoid any problems.

“The people who live here know what is supposed to be here and what is not,” Palmer said. “If you see something, say something.”

“We have not had problems yet in Ohio but there have been issues in Pennsylvania with pipe bombs,” Palmer added. “You are serious about getting this industry started in the area but I assure you there are persons who are just as serious about stopping it.”

“Hats off to Sheriff Myers and all of you here for taking the opportunity to sit down and work out your problems and discuss safety issues,” Palmer concluded.

The sheriff also reminded attendees that school is back in session beginning Aug. 21 in the Harrison Hills City School District and all drivers should be aware that school buses will be back on the roads.

The next shale safety meeting will be held Aug. 26.