Dispatch Article: Deal sought for road repairs by drillers

By  Spencer Hunt

The Columbus Dispatch Monday December 5, 2011 6:36 AM

Ohio’s shale-drilling boom might beat a path to economic prosperity, but township trustees and county engineers across the state worry that it also will beat down their roads.

Everyone agrees that the trucks that energy companies will use to haul heavy drilling rigs to remote well sites and haul away millions of gallons of “fracking” wastewater could wear down country roads and bridges. What they don’t agree on is who should pay for any repairs.

Officials with the governor’s office and the Ohio Department of Transportation say they’re holding meetings with energy companies and local officials to get them to agree on a payment plan.

“It would be nice to come up with a model agreement that everyone can use,” said Lloyd MacAdam, an ODOT deputy director.

Critics of the oil and gas industry question why the state, which has no authority over county and township roads, is involved.

Vanessa Pesec, president of the Network for Oil and Gas Accountability and Protection, said she fears that the state is trying to blunt local officials’ authority to draft plans and force energy companies to make expensive road repairs.

“The thought that even small ideas for local control might be stripped away is really disconcerting,” Pesec said.

The issue is one of many to spring from growing interest in Ohio’s Utica shale, a reservoir of oil and gas that can be tapped through horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The fracking process injects millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals into well shafts to shatter the shale and free trapped oil and gas. More than 3,800 such wells have been drilled into Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale since 2005. Experts predict a similar boom in Ohio.

Matthew DeTemple, executive director of the Ohio Township Association, said many township and county roads that lead to prospective drilling sites aren’t strong or wide enough to handle the increased traffic. “Some of our roads are not paved. They’re basically gravel-type roads,” said DeTemple, who is part of the state talks.

MacAdam said road-construction costs can vary from $1 million to $2 million “just to get to the well site.”

Pesec said Jefferson County officials have drafted a 10-page agreement that requires companies to upgrade or repair roads and bridges on specific routes to their wells. Companies also could buy bonds to guarantee repairs and, in cases of excessive damage, would have to stop drilling until repairs are made.

Jefferson County Engineer Jim Branagan said the agreements there are working. For example, Chesapeake Energy is upgrading 8 miles of road to a drill site, he said. “They just about have it done.”

Terry Bell, a trustee of Jefferson County’s Salem Township and an author of the county’s agreement, said he considers it a model for the rest of the state.

“ODOT wants to take our agreement, peel it down and make some revisions that I’m not truly 100 percent in favor of,” Bell said.

Bell objects to an appendix in a five-page agreement the state wrote that says that energy companies might be required to upgrade roads and pay for bonds and that counties and township will be responsible for routine road maintenance.

Rob Nichols, spokesman for Gov. John Kasich, said the state got involved after ODOT officials noticed big differences in the repair plans that counties and townships were offering energy companies. He said the talks are designed to produce a model agreement that all counties can use.

“We think uniformity is a helpful thing,” Nichols said. “It provides certainty for all players.”

Those comments were echoed by Keith Fuller, corporate-development director for Chesapeake Energy, which holds the drilling rights to about 1.5 million acres of Ohio’s Utica shale. “The idea is that, instead of each township having to develop its own agreement, that there is one agreement that would be the standard template,” he said.

Fuller said the company has no problem paying to upgrade and repair roads. “We are building a lot of roads to our well pads,” he said. “That’s what we do.”

MacAdam said he hopes to have a final agreement — one that would guarantee that energy companies will fix any damage — this month.

“At the end, there will be a better road, or it’s in the same condition as it is today,” MacAdam said. “That’s the crux of the agreement.”


Link to Original Article: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2011/12/05/deal-sought-for-road-repairs-by-drillers.html

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