The Texas Department of Transportation foots much of the bill for the road damage brought about by trucks traveling to and from hydraulic fracturing operations, and for the first time, the agency is collecting data with an eye to possibly recouping future funds.
Short-term spending for TxDOT includes $40 million to repair roads damaged by truck traffic in areas around the Barnett and Eagle Ford shale formations, where natural gas exploration is most prevalent. The department does not have data on how much state money has previously been spent on road damage due to these operations.
"[Collecting this type of data] is not something we've done in the past because it hasn't been so significant," TxDOT spokesman Mark Cross told Unfair Park. As recently as the past year, he said, his agency has noticed an especially significant increase in road damage in areas with a high concentration of gas wells. While drilling for natural gas is hardly new, it seems it's taken a while for the state to make special note of the cumulative effect on roadways, an issue noted by StateImpact.
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Here are a few stats included in TxDOT's February report on the issue, based on numbers from Fort Worth:
1,184 loaded trucks are necessary to "bring one gas well into production," plus 353 loaded trucks per year for maintenance and 997 loaded trucks every five years to re-frac a well. Or, by the TxDOT's arithmetic, that's the equivalent of about 8 million cars, plus 2 million cars per year for maintenance, which translates to a thus far unknown but significant maintenance cost.
"Heavy, oversize, overweight vehicles" on "small two-lane roads" are the culprits of the torn up surfaces, Cross said. The TxDOT spokesman is quick to defend the natural gas industry for its economic benefit to the state, but the roadway damage that burdens his agency has prompted officials there to begin collecting information that lawmakers can potentially use to justify road repair funds from the natural gas industry. With that, more transportation data reports are all but certain, while changes in the next legislative session are distant but possible. Several counties have already enacted payment plans for roadway mitigation.
"We just look at it as action that has significant impact, and we need to find solutions to lessen that impact," Cross says. The transportation department estimates roads will continue being torn up by trucks for at least 20-40 years. With that, a long-term solution is necessary, but for now, TxDOT is simply beginning to extend its arms for peaceful offerings.