The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is following the example of the Boy Scouts in trying to “be prepared” when it comes to roads in the Marcellus Shale region.
PennDOT has implemented a protocol aimed at preventing the damage many rural roads incurred earlier this year when the frost was coming out of the ground.
Many of these roads were not constructed to carry heavy loads so the combination of heavy vehicles associated with the natural gas drilling and the freeze-thaw cycle left them in deplorable condition.
The drilling companies also are working to keep the roads in better condition this year.
For example, Chesapeake Energy has spent $15 million since spring to repair and upgrade roads in Lycoming, Sullivan, Bradford and Tioga counties, says spokesman Brian L. Grove. It has another $15 million worth of projects planned before the end of the year, he says.
Its projects involve grinding the roadway to a depth of approximately 12 inches, adding cement to the soil, compacting it and applying six inches of blacktop.
Anadarko Petroleum Corp. is spending nearly $1.3 million to upgrade a 1.27-mile section of Route 44 north of Haneyville in the Pine Creek Valley by adding nine inches of blacktop.
Anadarko determined that it would be more cost-effective to upgrade the road rather than continue to make continuous repairs, PennDOT spokesman Rick Mason says.
PennDOT no longer is waiting from roads to deteriorate before posting them with a 10-ton weight limit. It has asked drilling companies to provide information on what roads they are likely to use during the winter and how they plan to maintain them.
The latter is crucial because asphalt plants are not open during the winter.
As a preventive measure, PennDOT inspectors check the roads on lists provided by the drilling companies. If they determine they are likely to deteriorate, they are posted with the 10-ton weight limit.
Drilling companies still may use these roads but they first must post a bond and agree to maintain them in the condition they were prior to use.
The agreements require drillers to post a bond of $12,500 for each mile of paved road and $6,000 per mile for the unpaved ones to insure they repair damage.
As of June 1, more than $14.6 million in bonds had been posted and maintenance agreements signed for is excess of 1,600 miles of roads in the Marcellus Shale that extends across the northern tier and through the southwestern part of the commonwealth.
PennDOT has become more aggressive in addressing the road conditions, say Sandra Tosca, district executive in Montoursville. When motorist safety is an issue, companies are given two days to start making repairs, she says.
PennDOT has revoked permits because companies failed to maintain roads as required, but they were reissued after repairs were made.
Financially-strapped PennDOT does not have the money to keep roads repaired and that is why the burden is on the drilling companies, Tosca says.
Work drilling companies are doing on roads in the Marcellus Shale region has helped blacktop companies make up for a decrease in municipal and private work due to the slow economy, Gary E. Hoffman, executive director of the Pennsylvania Asphalt Pavement Association, says.
It is possible some of the asphalt plants in the Marcellus Shale region will stay open longer this fall, he says. There is a new warm mix technology that produces asphalt at temperatures 50 to 100 degrees lower than the 325 for hot mix, he explains.