Semi-Truck Traffic Hammers Local Roads in the Bakken

trucks on dirt roadThe huge numbers of large trucks involved in the hydraulic fracturing taking place in the Bakken is taking it’s toll on roads in the area, according to a recent story in Transportation Nation. Roads originally constructed to serve the local farming-based economy aren’t up to the task of having thousands of semi-trucks loaded with water, sand and oil pounding them 24/7.

The amount of semi-truck traffic in the Bakken oil field communities is stunning.

“It isn’t uncommon that you will come through here (intersection in Williston) and see that the trucks will be backed up for a mile,” says Williston Economic Development Executive Director Tom Rolfstad. “They all have to take a left hand turn here, so it gets to be a real bottleneck.”

Williston officials want to create a truck route to divert semi traffic around the community.

“You can see the ration of trucks here,” Rolfstad says. “We are approaching 40% truck traffic on our roads. The highway engineers say 12% truck traffic is considered to be high.”

The volume of the semi traffic is undermining the road beds under paved and gravel roads. The roads designed to handle just moderate truck and farm traffic, since both Sidney, Montana and Williston, North Dakota are agriculture-based communities.

It takes thousands of semi-truck loads to service an average well during it’s lifetime. First to transport pipe and other materials during the drilling phase, followed by water and sand during the fracking process, and then both oil and water again when the fracking compound returns to the surface.

Some oil companies in the Bakken are maintaining roads and repairing damage they cause, but for the most part the maintenance is left to the local governments. Once again, public resources have not kept up with what’s needed to keep pace with the impact oil production is having on the region. Some of the oil tax revenue finds it’s way to local governments, but much is allocated for other things by the state, and a full thirty percent is set aside in North Dakota’s Legacy Fund, and can’t be touched until 2017.

Some oil companies are helping to take up the slack, but being for-profit companies, they are largely driven by their interest in access to the land where the oil is.

“We’ve built lots of roads for Richland County. Glad to do so,” says Russell Atkins, area production manager of the Bakken Operations for Continental Resources. “We needed the road to that (oil) well.”

He says in instances where there is no road but Richland County had the right-of-way, Continental would build a road and leave the maintenance to the counties in Montana and North Dakota. The affected counties are looking to their respective state Capitols and the federal Transportation Rea-authorization bill to help pay for the costs of building and maintaining affected oil patch roads.

“All that we ask is once it is built up and the drilling activity has subsided please maintain it. We’re glad to build it,” he says. “We get a few that think, ‘well, you are just going to build it, maintain it, and do everything from now on.’ It doesn’t work quite like that,” Atkins says.

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