One of the effects of using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques to extract oil and gas resources has been a significant increase in traffic volumes, especially in rural areas where most of the well development and production activities take place.
- Road damage from oil and gas operations in Texas costs an estimated $1.5 to $ 2 billion a year.
- This damage also impacts the trucking industry in Texas: vehicle damage and lower operating speeds cost the industry an estimated $1.5 to $3.5 billion a year.
- Rural crashes involving commercial vehicles have increased over 75% in some drilling regions in Texas.
- Additional preventative maintenance and guidelines would help reduce crashes and improve road conditions.
- Temporary pipelines along the state right of way could alleviate some of these impacts; research is currently underway to develop guidelines.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why does shale oil and gas production have such a heavy impact on roads?
Transportation is one of the most far-reaching and consistent impacts of shale oil and gas development. Texas accounts for about half of the drilling activity in the country at any given time, and all of that activity requires a very large number of heavy truckloads, which have far greater impact on roads than typical passenger vehicle traffic.
Most of this road damage and traffic occurs on rural roads, which were never designed to handle this kind of heavy truck traffic: developing a typical shale oil or gas well in Texas can have the same impact on the road as over 20 million passenger cars. And as the trucks get heavier, the damage they cause increases exponentially.
The increased heavy truck traffic has also resulted in higher numbers of crashes, particularly fatal ones, in some oil and gas development regions in the state.
What can be done to reduce these crashes and fix the damage to roads?
Funding to maintain or repair these roads isn’t keeping up with the damage caused by heavy truck traffic. A more sustained and reliable funding stream for state transportation could also help anticipate future stresses on transportation infrastructure for shale development activities.
This report also highlights the need for a well-integrated, multi-modal transportation network: pipelines, waterways, rail systems and more. Such a network would provide a way to move around the many elements needed for shale oil and gas development more efficiently and safely, with less negative impacts than the current model that relies almost entirely on heavy trucks.
How does transportation connect to the other areas of impact studied in this report?
Transportation is closely tied to all the other issues: fresh water needed for hydraulic fracturing means more road impacts, as does the disposal of wastewater resulting from those operations. When you look at it holistically, this is a very complex ecosystem with a lot of tradeoffs. A solution to one problem may cause unintended negative consequences in another area of impact. For instance, reducing road impacts by utilizing temporary pipelines could result in larger impacts on land and ecosystem fragmentation. An honest assessment of the many variables and a holistic approach to mitigating these impacts, along with greater access to and sharing of data, could lead to more informed planning and decision making about how to address these impacts.
“When you look at it holistically, this is a very complex ecosystem with a lot of trade-offs. A solution to one problem may cause unintended negative consequences in another area.”
~John Barton, Texas A&M University System
- Current technologies for oil and gas development and production from shale formations require very large numbers of heavy truckloads.
- Most existing roadway and bridge infrastructure in Texas was not designed to carry or accommodate the current large numbers and weights of truckloads.
- Traffic increases—especially truck traffic—associated with the development and production of oil and gas from shale formations in Texas have resulted in increases in the frequency and severity of traffic crash incidents.
- The level of funding to address the impacts to the transportation infrastructure and traffic safety in the oil and gas industry area is low relative to the magnitude of the impact.
- Enhanced efforts and support of the following research programs and strategies will improve preparedness of the state’s transportation systems for oil and gas development and production:
- improved availability and quality of data related to ongoing and forecasted drilling activities;
- development of integrated, multimodal transportation infrastructure strategies and solutions; and
- provisions for reliable, sustainable funding for proactively preparing the state’s transportation infrastructure for future drilling activities.
John Barton (Lead)
Texas A&M University System
Texas A&M Transportation Institute