County Judge James Teal convened a meeting Monday to talk to producers about road damage, litter and safety.
Attendees included a who’s who of major players in the Eagle Ford Shale boom, including Petrohawk, Burlington Resources/Conoco-Phillips, EOG Resources, Chesapeake Energy, Swift Energy, XTO Energy and others.
“There are a lot of philosophies out there among county judges,” Teal said. “It’s new territory for all of us.”
County Commissioners Tim Teal, Murray Swaim, Max Quintanilla and Paul Koonce each described problems caused by oil field traffic.
“It’s terrible,” Swaim said of Franklin Ranch Road. “We can’t keep up.”
He said there are two bridges on the road that need replacing.
“Somebody’s going to get killed on one of those narrow bridges,” he said.
The producers all pledged to work with the county, but Judge Teal indicated that without that cooperation, more formal steps would have to be taken to get them to pay for road repairs.
“From this point forward, we’re going to have to make these roads better,” he said. “We’re going to have to change the way we’re doing business.”
Counties such as DeWitt and Bee have recently established fees of nearly $10,000 to drill a well, with that money going to road funds.
Teal said he was reluctant to take that approach.
David Frye of EOG said that his company gives counties the material they need to repair roads.
“What we haven’t seen being very successful are schemes involving bonding or fees,” he said.
Chesapeake’s Adam Haynes said the company wants to be a good supporter of the counties in which it operates.
“Working in a cooperative nature is better than permitting and well fees,” he said. “We’re not opposed to putting our maintainers on the roads, although we prefer to provide material.”
On the other hand, Mike Anderson of XTO said his company is wary of doing actual work on roads because of liability concerns, but it is glad to provide material.
Burlington’s JD Atkins said his company’s approach, which has been used successfully in Live Oak County and other places, is to upgrade roads before starting drilling.
One thing the producers emphasized was that repairing roads and bridges with their assistance needed to be done equitably. For example, if one company has five sites on a county road and another has one, it shouldn’t be a 50/50 split; it needs to be proportional.
“On the roads where there are several operators, we need to be on the same page,” said Kyle Clader of Petrohawk.
Each of the McMullen commissioners praised the companies for the help they’ve provided to date and expressed appreciation for the economic boon they are bringing to the county and region.
At the end of the discussion, it was informally decided that each commissioner would work with the producers operating in their precincts to make sure county roads were maintained and repaired.
Chesapeake’s Haynes said, “If the voluntary system doesn’t seem to improve things and before you go down the road to instituting some type of fee, give us a heads up.” He then alluded to a carrot and stick approach.
“This meeting this morning is the stick,” Teal responded.
The meeting also addressed litter and safety.
“I encourage you guys to please remind (employees and subcontractors) to keep their litter to themselves,” Teal said. “The state’s not going to do it and the county can’t afford to do it.”
Concerning safety, the commissioners agreed that the speed pickup trucks travel on county roads is a problem.
“There are a lot of fast trucks,” Koonce said. “There’s no way our law enforcement can get out there and enforce the law.”
Department of Public Safety Sgts. Danny Keese and Alejandro Rodriguez outlined the impact of the increased traffic.
Keese, who is in charge of the patrol division that covers McMullen, Live Oak and Bee counties, said there were 50 accidents in the past four months, compared to 25 the year before, and that the trend is upward.
There were 13 accidents in McMullen County in October, and 16 in January.
Keese encouraged the producers to talk to their drivers and watch their hours because fatigue is a major factor in the surge in accidents.
Rodriguez, based in Falfurrias, said that his Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division stopped 300 commercial vehicles in McMullen County over a three-month period and found nearly 60 with violations that put them off the road.
“We’ve seen an extreme increase in overweight vehicles,” he said. “We have increased our efforts (in McMullen County) and will continue to increase our efforts. We’ll be here for a while,” he said.