LISBON - Columbiana County officials are pleased with the results from requiring drilling companies to upgrade and maintain local roads before and after site development.
"We've had a couple of ripples, but it's worked out well overall," said Bob Durbin, chief deputy county engineer.
Durbin reported 84 different road-use maintenance agreements (RUMAs) have been entered into since 2011 for 97 miles of county and township roads leading to 60 well pad sites in various stages of development.
Shortly after it became apparent the county was part of the Utica shale gas drilling boom underway in Eastern Ohio, county Engineer Bert Dawson decided they needed a standard RUMA in place to protect roads during site development and to ensure they are restored to their original condition afterwards. The Ohio Department of Transportation later developed a RUMA for counties to use.
The agreement requires the drilling company, which in all but one case to date has been Chesapeake Exploration, to perform an engineering study at its own expense to determine if the road can accommodate the additional heavy equipment traffic. From those results, a plan is developed to bring the road up to the standard required, with the company fitting the bill.
The plan is approved by township trustees or county commissioners, depending on the road, but all RUMAs are first reviewed by Dawson, who by law is the engineering adviser for all 18 townships.
While most of the county roads are able to accommodate the heavy traffic without any alterations, Durbin said that is not the case with township roads. He estimated 98 percent of township roads require an additional six to eight inches of subbase, followed by a layer of chip-and-seal.
The company is required to have an on-the-job inspector to ensure the work is done properly, and Paul Parks, highway superintendent for the engineer's office, has been assigned to also inspect the work.
Durbin said it has been a learning experience, pointing to Cream Ridge Road in Elkrun Township, one of the earliest locations in the county where multiples wells were drilled in the same vicinity. In 2011, Chesapeake ground off the chip-and-seal surface and put down limestone in its place because the company was concerned chip-and-seal would not hold up.
Dawson offered in 2012 to chip-and-seal three other roads Chesapeake was using, at the company's expense, to prove it could stand up to the heavy traffic. Since then, Chesapeake has chip-and-sealed the roads it uses, doing 20 miles of roads last year at a cost of $782,000.
"Once we showed them it would hold up is when we began requiring they chip-and-seal," Durbin. "We've been through this before with the coal industry, and we know chip-and-seal will stand up."
Chesapeake has spent $18 million through 2013 to upgrade roads. Durbin said there has been side issues involving drainage and dust control, "but for the most part everyone seems happy with the process."
When the work is completed, the drilling company must restore the road to its original condition or better, and Durbin said the road surface during site development and afterwards must be the same. In other words, if the road is a blacktopped road, it must be resurfaced with blacktop during site development and afterwards.
"In the long run we're going to end up with stronger and better roads," he said.
Using RUMAs has also proven to be a much better approach than requiring the drilling companies to post bonds with the county or townships. "We have not been requiring they post bonds because they're agreeing to pay for the road upgrades upfront," he said.
The county and townships has also entered into 29 other RUMAs for 13 gas gathering and transportation pipelines being laid in the county. These pipelines total 72 miles.