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A Long Road to Hoe: Transportation Impacts of Shale Gas Development in West Virginia

A representative from the West Virginia Division of Highways (DOH) recently spoke on the issue of secondary road maintenance in West Virginia. Speaking to members of the oil and gas industry at the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association (WVONGA), Assistant Deputy Secretary Marvin Murphy discussed the relationship between the O&G industry and the increased need for road maintenance.

Mr. Murphy discussed the roles of both the DOH and O&G industry in road maintenance and stated that “the public sees [the industry] as partially to blame” for the increase in need. As the O&G industry started developing in West Virginia, the state’s infrastructure experienced the same wear that similar states have experienced. The near constant need for trucks to travel to and from well sites does take its toll on local infrastructure. WV law mandates that the industry is responsible for repairing and maintaining affected roads, though Murphy noted that there was some “confusion” as to who is responsible for what, leaving many roads in disrepair. Additionally, the increased roadway activity and blocking of roads have become a “bone of contention” between residents and the industry.

In an effort to remedy the ill-maintained secondary roadways, the DOH implemented the Secondary Roads Maintenance Initiative. The initiative consists of 15,215 projects and will cost a total of $2.5B. The Shale Gas Knowledge Hub reviewed these plans and found that the top three gas producing counties in the state amount to 263 individual roadway projects (though some roadways require several steps of repairs). The project plans list portions of roadways designated by mile marker locations, with individual activities such as mowing, patching and ditching listed, along with additional maintenance plans such as paving.

Doddridge, the top producing county extracted 334,679,536 Mcf of natural gas in 2016 and has 200 projects planned for their secondary roadways, 20 of which have been completed as the most recent update on 5/21/2019. The second and third top producing counties, Wetzel and Marshall have 63 planned repairs between the two. The number of projects for the three top producing counties pales in comparison to plans for lower producing counties such as Fayette, which will have nearly a thousand roadways serviced under the initiative. This may indicate that the relationship between shale gas activities and road degradation is not as strong as initially thought.

There is no question as to whether or not the industry has a negative effect on roadways. However, questions remain regarding the initial conditions of West Virginia’s secondary roadways, and the compliance mechanisms in place for ensuring that the industry is adhering to mandates. 

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