HARRISBURG, Pa., May 24 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Counties and municipalities across Pennsylvania where natural gas drilling is taking place — particularly in the Northern Tier region — are also struggling to meet a number of additional challenges associated with the industry's increased presence and rapid growth, according to state officials.
PennDOT Secretary Allen D. Biehler, P.E. and Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Pawlowski today said that in the wake of the drilling, there have been increases in truck traffic, traffic violations, crime, demand for social services, and the number of miles of roads that are in need of repairs.
According to Biehler, hundreds of miles of secondary roads in Pennsylvania's northern tier have been damaged or even rendered impassable because of heavy truck traffic associated with drilling activities. While drilling companies have committed to repairing roads they use, Biehler said, their efforts have not kept pace with the damage in a number of cases.
"The high volume of heavy truck traffic carrying water, equipment and chemicals to drilling sites has caused extensive damage to secondary roads and even some primary roads," Biehler said, noting that many secondary roads in the northern tier region lack the base foundation to accommodate heavy drilling equipment.
"In a few cases, such as in Bradford and Tioga counties, we've had to close roads and revoke a drilling company's permit to use those roads because repairs were not made in a timely manner. The condition of some of these roads has made travel a safety concern."
PennDOT has ordered drilling companies to post bonds for 1,711 miles of roads and that number is expected to double this year. Drilling companies have posted $16.1 million in security for bonded roads.
State Police Commissioner Pawlowski attributed much of the road damage to overweight trucks serving the gas industry. He cited a Feb. 9 enforcement effort in Susquehanna County that found 56 percent of 194 trucks checked were found to be over the weight limit. Fifty percent of those trucks were also cited for safety violations.
"These trucks are large and heavy, so for the sake of those drivers sharing the road with them, it's important that they follow the law," said Pawlowski. "We're monitoring these roads closely and targeting areas where we know drilling-related traffic is heaviest, but it's still important that anyone witnessing unsafe behavior on the part drilling companies or their drivers report it to the state police."
Pawlowski said that overweight trucks are just one aspect of the additional challenges his troopers in the northern region are facing because of the increased drilling activity and influx of workers. Pawlowski reported more arrests and incidents involving drugs, assaults and illegal weapons.
"More and more, it seems the police reports coming out of the northern tier include arrests because of drug use and trafficking, fights involving rig workers, DUIs, and weapons being brought into the state and not registered properly," said the commissioner. "We've even encountered situations where drilling company employees who have been convicted of a sexual assault in another state come here to work and do not register with our Megan's Law website. Each of these issues is unacceptable and places an even greater burden on our law enforcement and local social programs meant to help those in need."
Pawlowski and Biehler both said the state and local governments need additional resources to address the problems that have accompanied the arrival of drilling companies to Pennsylvania.
Governor Edward G. Rendell has proposed a severance tax to ensure the industry pays its fair share and helps support the programs and services the commonwealth, counties and municipalities must provide to accommodate their presence.
Under the Governor's plan, Pennsylvania would take in approximately $1.8 billion over the next five years, with $180 million of that total being shared directly with local governments in areas where drilling activity is taking place. Local governments could then use those funds to repair roads and other infrastructure, bolster local law enforcement efforts, or provide programs to help those in need.
Rich Kirkpatrick, PennDOT; 717-783-8800
Jack Lewis, PSP; 717-783-5556
SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Transportation; Pennsylvania State Police