Heavy Loads and Country Roads: Fracking and Transportation

Today is the last day for public comment on New York’s proposed fracking regulations.

The controversial energy extraction process, in which workers inject chemicals into the earth to remove natural gas, has environmentalists worried. Transportation advocates should also be concerned, as the fracking industry’s impact on New York’s roadways could be quite extreme.

Fracking is bad for roads

The fracking industry would take a huge toll on New York’s roadways. It would introduce substantial truck traffic to rural roads that weren’t designed for such heavy vehicles and, moreover, would make upstate communities’ streets noisier and more dangerous. The roads’ capacity and flow constraints have serious implications for safety and operations, and the increased traffic would inevitably lead to expensive maintenance and refurbishing. The industry could bring 1.5 million heavy truck trips annually and increase peak traffic by 36,000 trips/hour.

New York State knows this, but they’re not saying so

The New York State Department of Transportation has studied the subject and reached these same conclusions. In August, a leaked agency document outlined the “ominous” effects that fracking could have on the state’s roads and bridges—that’s where we got our data.

“Pavement structural damage done by the passage of a single large truck is equivalent to that done by about 9,000 automobiles,” reads the report.

But state spokespersons were quick to dismiss the findings (on the grounds that they relied on an outdated environmental impact statement, or EIS).

A revision to this EIS (“revised dSGEIS”) was released by the Department of Environmental Conservation this fall, but it doesn’t address the majority of issues raised by NYSDOT’s leaked report. According to Emily DeSantis, the Director of Public Information for New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, NYSDOT “reviewed and approved the [dSGEIS’] transportation analysis.” Given that the dSGEIS does not sufficiently respond to the concerns raised in the original report, this shift seems groundless.

The revised environmental impact statement doesn’t adequately plan to protect New York’s roads

According to the dSGEIS, the “primary mechanism” for controlling and mitigating these impacts would be Road User Agreements (RUA) negotiated between industry and each local governing body. These agreements would cover truck routes, weight limits, hours of operation, road improvements, and financial responsibility. Frackers would also have to submit transportation plans to NYSDOT for review, but the agency would be limited to an advisory role.

But the dSGEIS gives little to no guidance to local governments that want good Road User Agreements, and there are substantial risks to regulating a well-funded industry through a patchwork of local agreements.

While some governments will negotiate better deals than others, the real issue will be enforcement. Already, industry has started challenging some municipalities’ fracking bans and the legal fees could grow to be astronomical. The oil industry simply has more legal resources at their disposal than local governments.

In spite of the concerns raised in the leaked NYSDOT report, the dSGEIS concludes that fracking would “have a significant, positive impact on the economy of New York State.” While acknowledging the “significant negative costs” related to roads that “may not be fully mitigated,” it never calculates just how many dollars constitute a “significant negative cost.”

Moving forward

The review continues—New Yorkers are wary of fracking, but they’re not thinking about what increased truck traffic means for local communities and municipal public works budgets. The NYSDEC, for example, has hired an outside consultant to reexamine fracking’s potential effects on housing and emergency services, but the consultant hasn’t been charged with investigating the industry’s impact on roads. Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli called for an emergency fund to help pay for potential remediation, but he doesn’t mention the frackers’ impacts on New York’s asphalt assets.

There are plenty of reasons to oppose fracking, but as the industry works to settle in upstate, New Yorkers should be mindful of what it could do to municipalities’ roads (and budgets).

4 Comments on "Heavy Loads and Country Roads: Fracking and Transportation"

  1. Raymond Sandoval | January 12, 2012 at 6:03 pm |

    OK, that being said, why do you cite an example in Oklahoma? Talk about “endangered” New York roads. And then talk about the jobs created in these rural areas.

    This is rhetoric not backed by facts.

  2. Roads are a major concern but i have heard of municipalities that are already using Road User Agreements with drillers, and have for years. Listen, just because the drilling industry has a lot of money doesn’t mean they are out to make themselves look bad. Call me naive, but it is in their best interest to “play nice” with locals because that is their bread and butter. In my humble opinion, we should make lots of concessions and agreements and ask for the right amount of money and watch the drilling companies employ our neighbors and let them do what they do best. In the end, they will have a positive significant impact on the economy and they will held to be responsible stewards of the land and infrastructure, and they will pay for it.

  3. So, let’s get rid of all the heavy-duty OTR trucks. Yeah, right! While country roads may be challenged, they should simply be upgraded using the money the state will get from the drillers. No, they want the money to line their pockets. By the way, seems I read somewhere that that video showing this guy’s water burning out of the tap had nothing to do with fracking. It involved something else, like fuel of some sort in the water. Please correct me if I’m wrong. Face it, it’s been the one-two punch of professional environmentalists and enviro-pandering politicians that have driven manufacturing and industrials out of the US. Environmentalists would have us living in hogans and teepees without electricity or heat. They must look to help, not poo poo every perceived threat.

  4. “Please correct me if I’m wrong. Face it, it’s been the one-two punch of professional environmentalists and enviro-pandering politicians that have driven manufacturing and industrials out of the US.”

    You are wrong. Labor costs are the #1 reason that manufacturing has gone overseas. Why pay someone in America $7 an hour when you can pay someone in China $7 a week?

    As to your perceived threat from environmentalists, just take a look at the air quality in Being. Or google for images of the Ganges River in India.

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