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Fracking Takes its Toll on Local Roads

Here is another sneak peek from the upcoming 2011 version of Fractured Communities

A leaked New York State Department of Transportation (“DOT”) report suggests that New York is not ready for the 1.5 million additional heavy truck trips each year that could result from shale gas extraction in the state.[1] The 19-page document, dated June 22, 2011, is a draft version of a discussion paper titled “Transportation Impacts of Potential Marcellus Shale Gas Development.”[2] This document was prepared as a basis for discussion of shale gas extraction transportation impacts between DOT, the staff at Governor Cuomo’s office, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (“DEC”), and was never intended for public release.  It appeared on the website of the Chenango, Delaware and Otsego Gas Drilling Opposition Group, Un-NaturalGas.org, last week.

In the report, DOT concluded that “[t]he potential transportation impacts are ominous,” and estimates that additional heavy truck trips from shale gas extraction would cause between $121 million and $222 million in damage to local roads and between $90 million and $156 million in damage to state roads each year.[3] DOT also determined that “there is no mechanism in place allowing state and local governments to absorb these additional transportation costs without major impacts to other programs and other municipalities in the state,” while noting that “local governments lack the authority and resources necessary to mitigate such problems.”[4]

In Northern Pennsylvania, shale gas extraction has already taken a toll on local roads.[5] When asked about shale gas development impacts in a 2010 interview, Rick Mason, Pennsylvania State Department of Transportation, noted that Pennsylvania had “never seen this kind of widespread, all-at-once wear and tear that our roads are now experiencing.”[6] In early 2010, state police in Towanda, Pennsylvania, issued five citations to a drilling contractor, totaling more than $31,000, who was hauling more than twice the truck’s permitted weight limit.[7]

New York State officials were quick to dismiss the leaked document, noting it was based on the 2009 draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) on shale gas extraction and that the final draft will include “mitigation measures” associated with road use.  Pennsylvania municipalities have used road-use agreements with the gas companies to try to protect their roads.  However, local officials have found that constant vigilance is required to hold companies accountable.  “If you don’t catch them, they’re here today and gone tomorrow.”[8]

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