The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Balancing Act

February 26, 2011

DOH wants to partner with drillers

The growth of the natural gas industry in West Virginia has put a good deal of stress on the state’s famed country roads.

The West Virginia Division of Highways wants to partner with the oil and gas industries to prevent any West Virginia roads from becoming unnavigable.

Brent Walker, DOH spokesperson, said it had to increase Oil and Gas Road Policy enforcement after witnessing damage being done to rural roads in the state.

“Some of our county routes were just being obliterated,” Walker said. “So we felt like we really needed to work a little closer with the oil and gas industries to enforce it.”

Initially, the industry was concerned due to the high bond requirements, particularly for drillers with multiple wells or long routes to travel to the well site. Walker said the division first adapted oil and gas road policies from coal operator policies.

“That was the easy fix,” he said. “It was the first place that we turned to until we could hear from and work with some of the oil and gas industry folks to learn how they were different.”

However, after sitting down with the industry, transportation officials worked out a policy that would better suit both the industries and West Virginians traveling on the roads.

Current Division of Highways policy requires bonding for state and local service roads. It also requires well operators to provide written notice to the DOH engineer in the district where drilling is proposed.

Additionally, a 24-hour point of contact is supplied to the Division of Highways and an on-site meeting is arranged. The route is also filmed, if possible, before the project begins.

The DOH provides an agreement that includes required improvements before, during and after completion of the well. A follow-up meeting is conducted post-project to ensure work was done appropriately.

Requirements are slightly less demanding for gas and oil wells producing less than 5,000 barrels of liquids transported on covered roads for drilling or stimulation activities.

Smaller operations are only required to secure bonding of up to $5,000 per well based on anticipated damage. Drillers surpassing the 500,000-barrel threshold must provide a bond based on the miles the company uses; $100,000 per paved mile, $35,000 per tar and chipped mile and $25,000 per graveled mile.

As an alternative, large-scale operations can elect to purchase a blanket bond to cover multiple roads in a district or throughout the state. The maximum blanket bond would be $250,000 to $1 million.  Smaller operations may post a statewide blanket bond of $50,000.

Multiple operators on the same roads share the costs of damage. There is also a provision to pursue damages greater than the bonded amount as well.

“We understand the importance of this industry, and we want to work together with them, but we found early on that these oil and gas companies were not being held accountable for the damage they were doing to our roadways,” Walker said. “That’s not across the board. There are some extremely responsible companies out there.”

He said some of the damage was greatly impacting families living along rural routes. In some cases, roads were so damaged the industry had to practically start over again on the road.

“It would be so worn down they would just come in and move earth to flatten it out again, but it was feet below where the original road was,” Walker said. “So during a significant rain event, it would be nothing but mud.”

Now, the industry is required to restore the road to equal or better conditions.

Walker said he hopes the oil and gas industry will follow the lead of coal and provide DOH with information like planned routes and well sites.

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