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Virtual Pipelines - Potential Routes to Cayuga

Virtual pipelines: Convenient for Industry, a Burden on Communities

As the natural gas industry faces harsher and more widespread critiques from environmentalists and citizens, pipeline projects are facing delays, fines, and defeat. Aside from the questionable economics behind transporting gas and oil by pipeline, there are broad economic risks associated with pipeline accidents. With an increasing list of pipeline-related accidents in the public eye, including the two this past summer in Texas and Kansas, blasts this fall in Beaver County, PA, and in Boston, MA, scrutiny of new pipeline projects is on the uptick.

That being said, what is the alternative?

Virtual Pipelines?

Virtual Pipeline - Oil and gas truck

Loaded CNG transport vehicle

Industry, not deterred by resistance from regulators and environmentalists, has developed a new work-around method to get their product to market. Rather than build pipelines across rugged, remote, or highly-populated terrain, a new “solution” called “virtual pipelines” has come on the scene, with roots in New England in 2011.

The term “virtual pipeline,” itself, is so new that it is trademarked by Xpress Natural Gas (XNG), Boston, MA. XNG and other virtual pipeline companies use specially-designed tanker trucks to move compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquefied natural gas (LNG) via our public roads and highways. CNG in this system is under very high pressure — up to 3,600 psi when tank trailers are full. Rail and barge shipments are also considered part of the system, and trailers are designed to be easily loaded onto train cars or boats.

For the gas industry, virtual pipelines can be used in locales where gas is only needed for a limited time period, the pipeline network is not developed, or opposition by landowners is too contentious to make eminent domain an option, among other issues. These virtual pipeline trucks are identifiable by the hazard class 2.1 placard they carry: 1971, indicative of flammable, compressed natural gas or methane.

Restricted only by permissible weight limits on roads (up to 80,000 pounds or more), 5-axle trucks may make in excess of 100 round trips a day from the fueling location to their destination — sometimes hundreds of miles away. These trucks, which may travel alone or in caravans, are identifiable by the hazard class 2.1 placard they carry: 1971, indicative of flammable, compressed natural gas or methane. Manufacturers of these virtual pipeline rigs tout the safety considerations that go into their engineered design. These considerations include special pressure monitoring for the dozens of tanks and super-strength materials to protect against ruptures.

Specialized equipment has been created to load compressed gas tanks into the trailers that will carry them to their destinations. Here’s a promotional video from Quantum:

Loading CNG into specialized trailers for transport

Impacts on Communities

Following New York State’s rejection of the Constitution Pipeline in 2016 based on water quality concerns, industry has been looking for ways to move natural gas from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus gas fields to the Iroquois Pipeline. The current strategy is to load the gas in canisters from a special compressor facility, and re-inject the gas to a pipeline at the journey’s endpoint. The extent to which virtual pipelines may be utilized in New York State and New England is not well known, but the natural gas industry does speak in sanguine terms about this strategy as a solution to many of its transportation issues.

Citizen blogger/activist Bill Huston has compiled a list accidents that have occurred with CNG transport trucks along the virtual pipeline that runs from a “mother station” at Forest Lake, PA to Manheim, NY, near the Iroquois pipeline. While there have been no explosions or loss of life as a result of these accidents, there are a number of reported incidents of trucks tipping or rolling over, sliding off the road, or spontaneously venting.

To move CNG from “Point A” to “Point B,” truck traffic through populated areas is unavoidable. In central New York, public outcry about virtual pipelines is rising, due in large part to the safety issues associated with increased truck traffic on state highways. In rural New York, state highways run through towns, villages, and cities. They are not separated from population centers in the way that interstate highways typically are. Traffic from CNG transport trucks clogs roadways, in some cases burdening the pass-through communities with 100 or more tractor trailers a day. Routes pass directly in front of schools and health care facilities.

In short, virtual pipelines present a public safety hazard that has yet to be addressed.

Virtual Pipelines and the Cayuga Power Plant 

In Lansing, NY, there is an inefficient and economically-beleaguered power plant, currently run on coal, that the power utility would prefer to see shut down. The Cayuga Power Plant was cited in 2016 for exceeding mercury emissions by nearly 2000%. Its inherently inefficient design makes it a significant greenhouse gas contributor. Years ago, it provided considerable tax benefits to its host community of Lansing, and as such has some lingering support. After both a devastating fire in one stack and mechanical failure in another, the plant has been barely running for the past 3 or 4 years. It is currently used as a “peaker plant“, operating only during periods of excessive demand on the electric grid, during summer months.

New York State’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, has stated that all coal-power plants will be shut down by 2020.

Cayuga Power Plant in Lansing, NY.

Nonetheless, the plant owners are pushing to re-power the Cayuga Power Plant with natural gas. Currently, however, there is no pipeline to deliver the gas to the plant.  Without support by the public nor the Public Service Commission for the construction of a supply pipeline, Cayuga Power Plant has revealed they plan to receive gas deliveries via truck.

Scenario Maps

FracTracker has modeled the five most likely scenarios that would take compressed natural gas from a loading station in northern Pennsylvania to the Cayuga Power Plant in Lansing. All of the scenarios bring the trucks through populated communities, in dangerous proximity to high-risk facilities where both human safety and evacuations are problematic. The routes also pass through intersections and road stretches that have some of the highest accident rates in the area.

Route 1: This route passes within a half mile of homes of 36,669 people in the Villages of Lansing, Candor, Spencer, Owego; Towns of Ithaca, Lansing, Newfield, Danby, Candor, Spencer, Tioga, Owego, Vestal; and the City of Ithaca. Within the half-mile evacuation zone of this route, should there be an accident, are:

  • 17 health care facilities
  • 20 day care centers
  • 4 private school
  • 21 public schools

Click on the tabs in the box above to explore the five potential truck routes with maps.

Interactive Map

For a full interactive map of the potential routes for CNG delivery to the Cayuga Power Plant, and the schools, health care facilities, etc. within a half-mile evacuation zone of the routes, view the interactive map below.

View map fullscreen | How FracTracker maps work

A Call for Alternative Energy

Despite the apparent convenience that virtual pipelines present for the fossil fuel industry, they are not the solution the future energy supply needs. Yes, they present an alternative to pipeline transportation — but they also play a disastrous role in continuing our descent into climate chaos caused by increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.

Methane leakage is an unavoidable component of the entire life cycle of natural gas usage — from “cradle to grave” — or more precisely, from the moment a well is drilled to when the gas is combusted by its end-user. And methane, as a greenhouse gas, is up to 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) recent report (see summary here) is unflinching in its clarion call for immediate, and extreme, cut-backs in greenhouse gas production. If we choose not to heed this call, much of humanity’s future survival is called into question.


By Karen Edelstein, Eastern Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

More of the details about the Cayuga Power Plant will be explained in the upcoming weeks in a related guest blog by environmental activist and organizer, Irene Weiser, of Tompkins County, NY.

 

 

A Hazy Future Report Cover

A Hazy Future: Pennsylvania’s Energy Landscape in 2045

Report Calculates Impacts from PA’s Planned Natural Gas Infrastructure

FracTracker Alliance released the report: A Hazy Future: Pennsylvania’s Energy Landscape in 2045 today, which details the potential future impacts of a massive buildout of Marcellus Shale wells and associated natural gas infrastructure.

Industry analysts forecast 47,600 new unconventional oil and gas wells may be drilled in Pennsylvania by 2045, fueling new natural gas power plants and petrochemical facilities in PA and beyond. Based on industry projections and current rates of consumption, FracTracker – a national data-driven non-profit – estimates the buildout would require 583 billion gallons of fresh water, 386 million tons of sand, 798,000 acres of land, 131 billion gallons of liquid waste, 45 million tons of solid waste, and more than 323 million truck trips to drilling sites.

A Hazy Future - Impact Summary

“Only 1,801 of the 10,851 unconventional wells already drilled count as a part of this projection, meaning we could see an additional 45,799 such wells in the coming decades,” commented Matt Kelso, Manager of Data and Technology for FracTracker and lead author on the report.

Why the push for so much more drilling? Out of state – and out of country – transport is the outlet for surplus production.

“The oil and gas industry overstates the need for more hydrocarbons,” asserted FracTracker Alliance’s Executive Director, Brook Lenker. “While other countries and states are focusing more on renewables, PA seems resolute to increase its fossil fuel portfolio.”

The report determined that the projected cleared land for well pads and pipelines into the year 2045 could support solar power generation for 285 million homes, more than double the number that exist in the U.S.

A Hazy Future shows that a fossil fuel-based future for Pennsylvania would come at the expense of its communities’ health, clean air, water and land. It makes clear that a dirty energy future is unnecessary,” said Earthworks’ Pennsylvania Field Advocate, Leann Leiter. Earthworks endorsed FracTracker’s report. She continued, “I hope Governor Wolf reads this and makes the right choices for all Pennsylvanians present and future.”

A Hazy Future reviews the current state of energy demand and use in Pennsylvania, calculates the footprint of industry projections of the proposed buildout, and assesses what that would look like for residents of the Commonwealth.

About FracTracker Alliance

Started in 2010 as a southwestern Pennsylvania area website, FracTracker Alliance is a national organization with regional offices across the United States in Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, New York, Ohio, and California. The organization’s mission is to study, map, and communicate the risks of oil and gas development to protect our planet and support the renewable energy transformation. Its goal is to support advocacy groups at the local, regional, and national level, informing their actions to positively shape our nation’s energy future.

Questions? Email us: info@fractracker.org.

Drilling rig in Ohio, December 2015

Ohio Shale Country Listening Project Part 1

Listening Project Partners: CURE, OOC, & FracTracker

The below industry quote divides the world into two camps when it comes to horizontal hydraulic fracturing: those who are for it and those who are against it:

Fracking has emerged as a contentious issue in many communities, and it is important to note that there are only two sides in the debate: those who want our oil and natural resources developed in a safe and responsible way; and those who don’t want our oil and natural gas resources developed at all.
– Energy from Shale (an industry-supported public relations website)

The writer imagines a world in black and white – with a clear demarcation line. In reality, it is not so simple, at least not when talking to the people who actually live in the Ohio towns where fracking is happening. They want the jobs that industry promises, but they worry about the rising costs of housing, food, and fuel that accompany a boomtown economy. They want energy independence, but worry about water contamination. They welcome the opening of new businesses, but lament the constant rumble of semi-trucks down their country roads. They are eager for economic progress, but do not understand why the industry will not hire more locals to do the work.

In short, the situation is complicated and it calls for a comprehensive response from Ohio’s local and state policy makers.

Through hefty campaign contributions and donations to higher learning institutions, the oil and gas industry exerts undue influence on Ohio’s politics and academic institutions. Many media outlets covering the drilling boom also have ties to the industry. Therefore, industry has been able to control the message and the medium. Those who oppose oil and gas in any way are painted as radicals. Indeed, some of Ohio’s most dedicated anti-fracking activists are unwavering in their approach. But most of the people living atop the Utica Shale simply want to live peacefully. Many would be willing to co-exist with the industry if their needs, concerns, and voices were heard.

This project attempts to give these Ohioans a voice and outsiders a more accurate representation about life in the Utica Shale Basin. The report does not engage in the debate about whether or not fracking should occur – but, rather, examines the situation as we currently find it.

Listening Project Summary

The Ohio Shale Country Listening Project is a collaborative effort to solicit, summarize, and share the perspectives and observations of those directly experiencing the shale gas boom in eastern Ohio. The project is led by the Ohio Organizing Collaborative (OOC)’s Communities United for Responsible Energy (CURE), with support from the Ohio Environmental Council (OEC), FracTracker Alliance, and the Laborers Local 809 of Steubenville. Policy Matters Ohio and Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services offered resources and time in drafting the final policy recommendations.

Over the course of six months, organizers from the Laborers Local 809 and OOC worked with a team of nearly 40 volunteers to survey 773 people living in the heart of Utica Shale country. Respondents are from eastern Ohio, ranging from as far north as Portage County to as far south as Monroe County. A small number of respondents hail from across the border in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, but the overwhelming majority are from Carroll (321), Columbiana (230), Jefferson (70), Harrison (30) and Belmont (28) counties.

Respondents were asked to talk about their family and personal history in the community where they live, their favorite things about their community and what changes they have noticed since the arrival of shale gas drilling using horizontal hydraulic fracturing or fracking. They were also asked to describe their feelings about oil and gas development as either positive or negative and what they believed their community would be like once the boom ends. Finally, respondents were also asked how concerned or excited they are about 11 possible outcomes or consequences of fracking.

Summary of Recommendations

  • Create incentives for companies to hire local workers; and increase transparency about who drilling and subcontracting companies are employing
  • Tax the oil and gas industry fairly with a severance tax rate of at least 5%; use this revenue to support affected communities to mitigate the effects of the boom and bust cycle
  • Increase the citizen participation in county decision-making on how additional sales tax or severance tax revenue is spent and how the county deals with the effects of the drilling boom
  • Increase transparency around production and royalties for landowners and the public
  • Set aside funding at the local level for air and water monitoring programs
  • Mitigate noise and emissions as much as possible with mandatory sound barriers and green completion on all fracking wells
  • Create mechanisms to protect sensitive areas from industry activity
  • Levy municipal impact fees to address issues associated with drilling
  • Better protect landowners during leasing negotiation process and from potential loss of income due to property damage

Conclusion

The more shale gas wells a community has, the less popular the oil and gas industry appears to be. Carroll County is the most heavily drilled county in Ohio, and more than half the respondents said they view the drilling boom negatively. Moreover, many residents say they are not experiencing the economic benefits promised by the oil and gas industry. They see rent, cost of gas, and groceries rising as the drilling and pipeline companies hire workers from out of state and sometimes even out of the country. Residents see more sales tax revenue coming into their counties but also see their roads destroyed by large trucks. They say they are experiencing more traffic delays and accidents than ever before. Ohioans love their community’s pastoral nature but are watching as the landscape and cropland get destroyed. As it is playing out now, the boom in shale gas drilling is not fulfilling the promises made by industry. Locals feel less secure and more financially strapped. Many feel their towns will soon be uninhabitable. It is up to state and local governments to hold industry accountable and make it pay for the impacts it creates.

Infrastructure associated with horizontal hydraulic fracturing. Images from Ted Auch and FracTracker’s Oil & Gas Photos Archive:

Inception & Evolution of the Listening Project

The Ohio Shale Country Listening Project started in February 2014 with a conversation between Ohio Organizing Collaborative (OOC) staff and a veteran organizer who once worked on mountain top removal in a large region of West Virginia. The OOC organizer lamented the difficulty of organizing across a large geography around a specific issue – in this case, fracking. How do you find out what the people want without dictating to the community? The more experienced organizer immediately responded: What about a listening project? She connected OOC to the Shalefield Organizing Project in Pennsylvania whose organizers helped OOC think through what a listening project might look like in Ohio.

The project took on several iterations. First, OOC planned to focus the listening project solely on Columbiana County, which at the time was the third most fracked county in Ohio. Next, community leaders in Carroll County, the most heavily drilled county in the state, suggested the project also focus there. Eventually, as it became clear that the shale play was moving further south in Ohio, the project expanded into other counties such as Belmont, Harrison, and Jefferson. While attending a public hearing on pipeline construction in Portage County, OOC staff met an organizer from the Laborers Local 809 out of Steubenville. The organizer expressed interest in joining the project. Meanwhile, OOC had been in discussions with the Ohio Environmental Coalition (OEC) about the need to share the stories of people living in the middle of a fracking boom. OEC agreed to join the project. Finally, FracTracker also came into the fold, eager to assist in analyzing and mapping data gathered during the effort.

ListeningProject_Volunteer

A listening project volunteer surveys a shopper at Rogers Open Air Market

OOC staff solicited the help from about 40 volunteers to form the “Listening Project Team” who surveyed their friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors. Volunteers met four times over the course of six months to discuss the project and strategize about how to reach more people with the survey. Most of the volunteer team came from Columbiana and Carroll Counties. The Laborers Local 809 also distributed the surveys to their members. Members of the team canvassed neighborhoods, attended local festivals, set up a booth at Rogers Open Air Market (photo left) and distributed an online version of the survey through Facebook and email. OOC staff spoke at college classes at Kent State-Salem and Kent State-East Liverpool, and solicited input from students in attendance.

Listening project respondents by location

The project’s initial goal was to hit a target of 1,000 – 1,500 survey responses. In the end the team fell short of this number, but were able to reach 773 people living in the Utica Shale area. This barrier is mostly due to the rural nature of the communities surveyed, which makes it more difficult to reach a large number of people in a short timeframe. The most responses came from Carroll County – 321 surveys. Columbiana County represented the second largest group of respondents with 230 surveys. Seventy people from Jefferson County, 30 people from Harrison County, 28 from Belmont County filled out the survey. The final 80 responses came from Mahoning, Stark, Summit and Tuscarawas Counties. Finally, nearly fifty responses came from Pennsylvania and West Virginia residents who live along the Ohio border (see Figure right). We promised survey respondents that all names and information would be kept confidential with survey responses presented only in aggregate.

Gas Trucks Blocking Roads

Companies Lack Truck Traffic Coordination

Recently, I was observing how Statoil was managing their gas well traffic, how well it was moving, and whether local residential traffic was being significantly delayed.

Figure 1. Road map referred to throughout text

Figure 1. Road map referred to throughout text

In Wetzel County, WV, gas trucks travel 4.5 miles from a Statoil pipe yard (Fig 1. Location A) in Uniontown to the Statoil Kuhn well pad (E). This trip can take at least 15 minutes for each truck. Rockford is also doing pipeline work along this route (B and D).

The roadway Statoil is using, even though it is small gravel lane, is a public route. Routine well pad traffic was moving between the pad and pipe yard. When I attempted to travel out to the well pad, I noticed some issues around the pipeline crossing. A large truck was blocking the road and all traffic was stopped. At 3:59 pm, a large dump truck hauling drill cuttings left the well pad coming towards the pipeline. Statoil personnel radioed the flagger at the pipe yard to stop traffic there.

The dump truck was stopped at the pipeline crossing, point D at 4:09 pm, where the road was blocked. It was not until 4:34 pm that traffic was finally able to proceed. This section of road was closed for 35 minutes, as was the lower road at the pipe yard.

For the past few days, Statoil has been stopping all traffic as soon as any truck leaves the well pad, whether the pipeliners have the road blocked or not.

Associated Issues

There are three serious factors that significantly hamper traffic flow along this route:

Statoil's Kugh Well Pad

Statoil’s Kugh Well Pad

  1. Statoil has flagger-radio personnel stationed at the pipe yard and at the pad, but not at the top of the hill (C) about a mile from the pipe yard. As a result, there was no way to allow any local traffic to come up the hill even when they intend to continue heading west or southeast. With a flagger-radio at the top of the hill, local traffic could be up the hill and long gone before any large trucks got to there. (Note: After a few weeks a traffic person was then stationed at the top of the hill).
  2. Not all Statoil subcontractors trucks are equipped with CB radios, so it is impossible to track their progress or location on this road.
  3. Rockford and Statoil do not use any common radio band. They do not appear to communicate with each other even though they are working along this same truck route.

This traffic block incident luckily did not include emergency vehicle traffic. If there had been any accident on or near the well pad or the pipeline right of way, no one would have been able to get through. It would seem that it is in the best interest of the companies and their employees to make sure the road is clear, all the time. When I discussed this with the tool pusher* on the well pad, he agreed. He was also concerned that there was no helicopter landing area nearby in the event of a serious accident. He runs a safe well drilling operation but wanted to be certain that an emergency vehicle could get through.

* A tool pusher is the boss man who runs the whole drilling operation as a subcontractor to the gas operator.


By Bill Hughes, WV Community Liaison, FracTracker Alliance
Read more Field Diary articles.

 

Here They Come Again! The Impacts of Oil and Gas Truck Traffic

Part of the FracTracker Truck Counts Project
By Mary Ellen Cassidy, Community Outreach Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

I was recently invited by a community member to visit his home. It sits in a valley that is surrounded by drilling pads, as well as compressors and processing stations. While walking down the road that passes directly in front of his home, several caravans of gas trucks roared past and continued far into the evening. Our discussion about the unexpected barrage of this new invasion of intense truck traffic was frequently interrupted by the noise of the diesel engines passing nearby. Along with the noise, truck headlights pierced through the windows of the home, and dust flew up from the nearby road onto his garden.

There are many stories like this about homes and families impacted by the increased truck traffic associated with fracking-related activities. FracTracker is currently working with some of these communities to document the intensity of gas and oil trucks travelling their roads. In response to these concerns we have a launched a pilot Truck Counts project to provide support, resources, and networking opportunities to communities struggling with high volume gas truck traffic.

Preliminary Results

Volunteers in PA, WV, OH and WI have already started to participate in the project, with some interesting results, photos, observations, and suggestions.

TruckCountsChart

To-date, truck counts have varied significantly, as to be expected. Some of the sites where we chose to count passing trucks were very close to drilling activity, and some were more remote. While developing the counting protocol, we often included large equipment and tanker trucks, as well as gas company personnel vehicles (as indicated by white pickup trucks and company logos on the side). While the data vary, the spikes in truck counts do tell the story of a bigger and broader issue – the influx of heavy equipment during certain stages of drilling can be a significant burden on the local community. In total, we counted 676 trucks over 13 sites The average number of trucks that passed by per hour was 44, with a high of 116 an hour, and a low of 5.

About the Project

FracTracker Truck Counts partners with communities to: help identify issues of concern related to high volume gas truck traffic; collect data, photos, videos and narratives related to gas truck traffic; and analyze and share results through shared database and mapping options.

What motivates volunteers to join us in our Truck Counts program? Community concerns include dust, diesel exhaust, spills, accidents, along with other health and safety issues, as well as the cost and inconvenience of deteriorating road conditions resulting from the increased weights and numbers of vehicles. So, what do we already know about the extent of the damages caused by heavy truck traffic?

Public Safety

Several studies have found that shale gas development is strongly linked to increased traffic accidents and that the increases cannot be attributed only to more trucks and people on the road.

Unlike gas truck traffic issues from past oil and gas booms, this recent shale gas boom impacts traffic and public safety in many different ways. The hydraulic fracturing process requires 2,300 to 4,000 truck trips per well, where older drilling techniques needed one-third to one-half as many trips. Another difference is the speed of development that often far outpaces the capacity of communities to build better roads, bridges, install more traffic signals or hire extra traffic officers. Some experts explain increased truck traffic related accidents by pointing to regulatory loopholes such as federal rules that govern how long truckers can stay on the road being less stringent for drivers in the oil and gas industry. Others note that out of state drivers in charge of large heavy duty loads are not always accustomed to the regional weather patterns or the winding, narrow and hilly country roads that they travel.

An Associated Press analysis of traffic deaths in six drilling states shows that in some counties, fatalities have more than quadrupled since 2004 when most other American roads have become much safer in that period (even with growing populations). Marvin Odum, who runs Royal Dutch Shell’s exploration operations in the Americas, said that deadly crashes are “recognized as one of the key risk areas of the business”. Along with the community, gas truck drivers themselves are at risk. According to a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, vehicle crashes are the single biggest cause of fatalities to oil and gas workers. The AP study finds that:

  •  In North Dakota drilling counties, the population has soared 43% over the last decade, while traffic fatalities increased 350%. Roads in those counties were nearly twice as deadly per mile driven than the rest of the state
  • From 2009-2013-
    • Traffic fatalities in West Virginia’s most heavily drilled counties…rose 42%. Traffic deaths in the rest of the state declined 8%.
    • In 21 Texas counties where drilling has recently expanded, deaths/100,000 people are up an average of 18 % while for the rest of Texas, they are down by 20%.
    • Traffic fatalities in Pennsylvania drilling counties rose 4%, while in the rest of the state they fell 19 %.
    • New Mexico’s traffic fatalities fell 29%, except in drilling counties, where they only fell 5%.

A separate analysis by Environment America using data from the Upper Great Plans Institute finds that – “While the expanding oil industry in North Dakota has produced many benefits, the expansion has also resulted in an increase in traffic, especially heavy truck traffic. This traffic has contributed to a number of crashes, some of which have resulted in serious injuries and fatalities.” In the Bakken Shale oil region of North Dakota, the number of highway crashes increased by 68% between 2006 and 2010, with the share of crashes involving heavy trucks also increasing over that period.”1

Truck accident and spill in WV. Wetzel County Action Group photo, copyright of Ed Wade, Jr.

Truck accident and spill in WV. Wetzel County Action Group photo, copyright of Ed Wade, Jr.

Public health concerns do not end with traffic accidents and fatalities. An additional cost of heavy gas truck traffic is the strain it places on emergency service personnel. A 2011 survey by State Impact Pennsylvania in eight counties found that:

Emergency services in heavily drilled counties face a troubling paradox: Even though their population has fallen in recent years, 911 call activity has spiked — by as high as 46 percent, in one case.” Along with the demands placed on emergency responders from the number of increased calls, it also takes extra time to locate the accidents since many calls are coming from transient drivers who “don’t know which road or township they are in.

In Bradford County, a heavily drilled area, increased traffic has delayed the response times of emergency vehicles. According to an article in The Daily Review, firefighters and emergency response teams are delayed due to the increased number of accidents, gas trucks breaking down, and gas trucks running out of fuel (some companies only allow refueling once a night).

Road Deterioration and Regional Costs

Roadway degradation from truck traffic. Wetzel County Action Group photo, copyright of Ed Wade, Jr.

Roadway degradation from truck traffic. Wetzel County Action Group photo, copyright of Ed Wade, Jr.

An additional cost often passed on to the impacted communities is infrastructure maintenance. In an article from Business Week, Lynne Irwin, director of Cornell University’s local roads program in Ithaca, New York, states, “Measures to ensure that roads are repaired don’t capture the full cost of damage, potentially leaving taxpayers with the bill.”

This Food and Water Watch Report calculated the financial burden imposed on rural counties by traffic accidents alone, estimating that if the heavy truck accident rate in fracked counties had matched those untouched by the boom, $28 million would have been saved.2

Garrett County is currently struggling with anticipating potential gas traffic and road costs. The Garrett County Shale Gas Advisory Committee uses recent studies from RESI ‘s New York and Pennsylvania data to project gas truck traffic for 6 wells/pad at 22,848 trips/pad and 91,392 total truck trips the first year with increasing numbers for the next 10 years. Like many counties, Garrett County also faces the issue that weights and road use are covered by State, not County code.  There is a possibility, however, that the County could determine best “routes” for the trucks. (This is a prime example of the need and benefit for truck counts.)

Although truck companies and contractors pay permit fees, often they are either insufficient to cover costs or are not accessible to impacted counties. The Texas Tribune reports, “The Senate unanimously passed a joint resolution which would ask voters to approve spending $5.7 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund, including $2.9 billion for transportation debt. But little, if any, of that money is likely to go toward repairing roads in areas hit hardest by the drilling boom.”

Commenting on the argument that gas companies already pay their fair share for road damages they cause, George Neal posts calculations on the Damascus Citizens for Sustainability website that lead him to conclude that, although “the average truck pays around 27 times the fuel taxes an average car pays… according to the Texas Department of Transportation, they do 8,000 times the damage per mile driven and drive 8 times as far each year.”

The funds needed to fill the gap between the costs of road repairs and the amount actually paid by the oil and gas companies must come from somewhere. According to a draft report from the New York Department of Transportation looking at potential Marcellus Shale development costs, “The annual costs to undertake these transportation projects are estimated to range from $90 to $156 million for State roads and from $121-$222 million for local roads. There is no mechanism in place allowing State and local governments to absorb these additional transportation costs without major impacts to other programs and other municipalities in the State.”

Poor Air Quality

Caravan of trucks. Photo by Savanna Lenker, 2014.

Caravan of trucks. Photo by Savanna Lenker, 2014.

Along with public safety and infrastructure costs, increased truck traffic associated with unconventional oil and gas extraction is found to be a major contributor to public health costs due to elevated ozone and particulate matter levels from increased emissions of heavy truck traffic and the refining and processing activities required.

In addition to ozone and particulate matter in the air, chemicals used for extraction and development also pose a serious risk. A recent study in the journal of Human and Ecological Health Assessment found that 37% of the chemicals used in drilling operations are volatile and could become airborne. Of those chemicals, more than 89% can cause damage to the eyes, skin, sensory, organs, respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts, or the liver, and 81% can cause harm to the brain and nervous system. Because these chemicals can vaporize, they can enter the body not only through inhalation, but also absorption through the skin.

The Union of Concerned Scientists note that air pollution from traffic may be worsened in North Dakota by the use of unpaved roads that incorporate gravel containing a fibrous mineral called erionite, which has properties similar to asbestos. Trucks driving over such gravel roads can release harmful dust plumes into the air, which could present health risks for workers and area residents

To address and solve these problems associated with heavy truck traffic, information is needed to assess both qualitatively and quantitatively the scope of the increased truck traffic and its impacts on communities. Collection and analysis of data, as well as community input, are needed to both understand the scope of the problem and to inform effective solutions.

Joining FracTracker’s Truck Counts

In response to community concerns about the impacts of increased truck traffic in their community, FracTracker has developed the Truck Count project to document the intensity of oil and gas traffic in your region, map heavy traffic locations, and offer networking opportunities for impacted communities.

Participation in FracTracker’s Truck Counts can provide grassroots organizations with a valuable opportunity to collect local data, engage volunteers, and educate stakeholders and the public. The data, pictures and narratives collected can be used to support concerned citizens’ efforts to reroute traffic from schools, playgrounds and other sensitive areas; to inform decision makers, public health researchers, and transportation agencies; to serve as a potential launching point for more detailed, targeted studies on public health and safety along with economic development analyses; to compare costs and benefits of oil and gas energy sources to the cost and benefits of energy conservation, efficiency and renewable energy.

Also, by sharing your community’s counts and stories on FracTracker.org, you serve other communities by increasing the awareness of the impacts of oil and gas truck traffic nationwide.

FracTracker’s Truck Counts provides the following resources to conduct the counts:

  • information and education on gas and oil truck identification,
  • data sheets for easy counting, and
  • tips for selecting safe and accessible counting locations in your community.

We look forward to working with you and supporting your community. If you are interested in working on this important crowdsourcing project with us, please contact:

Mary Ellen Cassidy
Community Outreach Coordinator
Cassidy@Fractracker.org
304-312-2063


Endnotes and References

  1. In addition, a 2013 study from Resources for the Future found that shale gas development is linked to traffic accidents in Pennsylvania with a significant increase in the number of total accidents and accidents involving a heavy truck in counties with a relatively large degree of shale gas development as compared to counties with less (or no) development.
    The 2013 Food and Water Watch Report finds similar correlations. Shale gas drilling was associated with higher incidents of traffic accidents in Pennsylvania. This trend was strongest in counties with the highest density of fracking wells. The decrease in the average annual number of total vehicle crashes was 39% larger in unfracked rural counties than in heavily fracked counties. (analysis based on data from US Census Bureau, PA DEP and PennDOT).
    In a recent Karnes County, Texas analysis “Traffic accidents and fatalities have skyrocketed in the shale boom areas….with an increases of 1,000% in commercial motor vehicle accidents from 2008-2011.
    According to a 2013 Texas Public Threat Safety Report, “In the three Eagle Ford Shale counties where drilling is most active, the number of crashes involving commercial vehicles rose 470 percent between 2009 and 2011. In the 17 counties that make up the Permian Basin, fatal car crashes involving commercial vehicles have nearly tripled from 14 in 2010 to 41 in 2012.
    As a result of heavily using of publicly available infrastructure and services, fracking imposes both immediate and long-term costs on taxpayers. An Environment Texas study reveals that, “Trucks required to deliver water to a single fracking well cause as much damage to roads as 3.5 million car journeys, putting massive stress on roadways and bridges not constructed to handle such volumes of heavy traffic. Pennsylvania estimates that repairing roads affected by Marcellus Shale drilling would cost $265 million”.
  2. Researchers from the RAND Corporation and Carnegie Mellon University looked at the design life and reconstruction cost of roadways in the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania. Their findings in Estimating the Consumptive Use Costs of Shale Natural Gas Extraction on Pennsylvania Roadways, note that local roads are generally designed to support passenger vehicles, not heavy trucks, and that “the useful life of a roadway is directly related to the frequency and weight of truck traffic using the roadway.” The study’s findings include:
    1. “The estimated road-reconstruction costs associated with a single horizontal well range from $13,000 to $23,000. However, Pennsylvania often negotiates with drilling companies to rebuild smaller roads that are visibly damaged, so the researchers’ conservative estimate of uncompensated roadway damage is $5,000 and $10,000 per well.
    2. While the per-well figure of $5,000-$10,000 appears small, the increasingly large number of wells being drilled means that substantial costs fall on the state: “Because there were more than 1,700 horizontal wells drilled [in Pennsylvania] in 2011, the statewide range of consumptive road costs for that year was between $8.5 and $39 million,” costs paid by state transportation authorities, and thus taxpayers.”
  3. The feature photo at the top of the page was taken by Savanna Lenker, 2014.