Can fracking damage fermanagh roads?

A 2014 study published in Journal of Infrastructure Systems, Estimating the Consumptive Use Costs of Shale Natural Gas Extraction on Pennsylvania Roadways,” investigates the damage that the overall process of High Volume Hydraulic fracturing can bring to road structures.

The RAND Corporation and Carnegie Mellon University, who conducted the report, analysed the design life and reconstruction cost of roadways in the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania.

They found that local municipal 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.”

With fracking comes and increase in heavy trucks on roads designed for smaller vehicles. Over time, teh quality of roads will increase at a faster rate. Who will pay for the upkeep of municipal roads? (image source: inthesetimes.com)
With fracking comes and increase in heavy trucks on roads designed for smaller vehicles. Over time, the quality of roads will increase at a faster rate. Who will pay for the upkeep of municipal roads? (image source: inthesetimes.com)

As a result, the study found that an increase in heavy road traffic, a characteristic feature of HVHF (due to transporting heavy materials and high volumes of fluids) will lead to an increase of road damage. And as a result, this can lead to an economic increase in the costs of road maintenance.

The study’s findings include:

  • Heavier vehicles cause exponentially greater roadway damage: A single axle with a 3,000-pounds load has a load equivalency factor (LEF) of 0.0011; for an 18,000-pound load, the LEF is 1.0; and for 30,000 pounds, it’s 8.28. “This means that 18,000-pound and 30,000-pound single-axle … do about 900 times and 7,500 times more damage than a 3,000-pound single axle pass, respectively.”
  • 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.
  • 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.

This report should allow local residents to question the hidden, often overlooked cost of allowing the process of High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing within county Fermanagh and beyond. Who will pay for the maintenance of local roads? Should the responsibility be left to local residents, or the local fracking company? If we were to leave the responsibility to the fracking company, can we ensure that they will pay for the damage of their practice? Leave your comments below.

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