State Looks at Energy Industry’s Impacts on Permian Basin Roads

Over the course of two days, the growing frac sand industry came into focus during two Texas House hearings.

The Permian Basin’s growing frac sand industry is seeing thousands of heavy trucks hit the road daily, delivering the fine-grain sand to oil producers in the region.

With an estimated 16 operating sand mining companies operating in the Permian Basin, there are growing concerns about the potential damage caused to state and county roads in the Permian Basin.

At a State House hearing, the Texas Department of Transportation says they’re working to figure out how to make the area safer for drivers.  “What is, I guess, catching our eye and our concern is that each one of those sand mines generates between 300 and 500 trucks a day when they’re fully operational,” says Randy Hopmann, with TxDot.

The frac sand trucks that are filling West Texas roads mean increased traffic and the risk of accidents. TxDot says the Permian accounts for roughly 2 percent of Texas’ population, but represents a staggering 10 percent of the fatalities on state highways.

“I know statistically as the price of oil goes up, the energy sector activity goes up and the number of crashes and fatalities goes up,” Hopmann said, adding that he’s unaware of any other area in the state with such a disparity.

At a separate hearing, representatives with sand mining companies said the growth of the industry hasn’t created an increase in truck traffic. “One misconception is the West Texas sand industry is adding trucks to the roads of the Permian Basin,” Ben Brigham, Chairman with Atlas Sand, said.

“The same amount of sand would have been in demand in the area,” Brigham told the State Energy Resource committee.

The sand being transported is a key ingredient in the hydraulic fracturing process and producers in the region have increasingly turned to the locally sourced sand in order to cut costs.

Hopmann says several sand mining companies have agreed to pay for highway improvements near and around their sites. These private-public partnerships are being considered as quick solutions to a pressing problem in the region.

But Major Chris Nordloh, with the Department of Public Safety, said it isn’t just frac sand traffic that’s straining the roads.”It’s water trucks, it’s pipeline, it’s all the support vehicles that go with it, specialized equipment,” Nordloh said. “All that contributes to the wear and tear. It’s not just the frac sand.”

Nordloh says going forward county and state officials will need to plan for an increase in all commercial vehicles. “We ought to have wide-spots on the road at least, where we can weigh trucks and inspect them.”

This, he says, can help counties ensure trucks aren’t hauling more weight than they’re legally allowed to on a single trip.

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