Centre Daily Times: PennDOT: Natural gas drilling industry minding the roads

By Cliff White

MSC President Kathryn Klaber: “The gas industry had spent more than $400 million fixing Pennsylvania roads.”

UNIVERSITY PARK — Last year, as winter arrived in Pennsylvania, there were about 400 miles of roads in the commonwealth with major damage caused at least partially by heavy vehicle traffic generated by drilling in the Marcellus Shale.

This year, there are only about 10 such miles of damage, according to Scott Christie, Penn- DOT’s deputy secretary for highway administration.

“That number shows PennDOT, contractors and the Marcellus industry are working far better as a team to make sure roads stay in good shape, or if they don’t stay in good shape, to fix them very quickly,” he said.

Christie was in State College to speak at the third Marcellus Transportation Safety Day at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel. So was Kathryn Klaber, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, which organized the event. She said the gas industry had spent more than $400 million fixing Pennsylvania roads.

“We’re going into this winter season much more prepared, and that’s in large part due to greater collaboration between (PennDOT) districts and our own operators,” Klaber said.

Thursday’s event aimed to educate carriers and truck drivers supporting the natural gas industry about Pennsylvania’s regulations, and improve safe operating practices.

Beside a water hauling truck parked in the hotel’s back lot, Trooper Matthew Knock described to a group of gas and transportation industry employees the most common violations he sees in the 50 to 75 inspections of Marcellus-related vehicles he performs each month.

“I find a lot of people driving without logbooks or with expired inspections, but I’ve seen violations that run the gamut,” Knock said.

Knock, a trooper in gas-rich Bradford County, said during the initial ramp-up of activity in that area a few years ago, almost all of the vehicles used for gas drilling-related purposes that he stopped had “some degree” of noncompliance.

“There was definitely a ‘get it done yesterday’ attitude,” he said.

A review of inspections performed by state police on commercial motor vehicles used in support of Marcellus Shale gas drilling operations in 2010 revealed 56 percent resulted in either the vehicle or driver being placed out of service for serious safety violations.

Thanks to heavy enforcement, the noncompliance rate has dropped to about 45 percent in the most recent study, but Knock said that’s still too high.

“A lot of the hauling companies have come around, but we still have a lot of companies that haven’t,” he said.

Dean Riland, the safety director for the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association, said his industry is being given a bad name by a few bad actors who had gained a large amount of work in the Marcellus by spending less on safety and underbidding the competition.

“We support tough enforcement of the rules because it creates an equal playing field and the same costs for all companies,” he said.

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