Fixing roads

As shale oil and gas exploration and production continues to grow locally, Marietta officials are beginning to consider the wear and tear on city streets from heavy trucks and machinery traveling through town.

The Ohio Department of Transportation recommends road use maintenance agreements (RUMA) for communities in areas of the state where oil and gas activity is taking place. The agreements, developed between local governments and oil and gas companies, help ensure that roadways traveled by trucks and drilling equipment will be maintained and repaired if needed.

“I’m kind of surprised that we haven’t moved on this yet,” said Marietta Councilwoman Kathy Downer, D-at large, who chairs council’s streets and transportation committee.

She noted the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has been given authority over drilling activity throughout the state, including within the city limits of Ohio’s municipalities.

“But we need to maintain some kind of control locally, and having an agreement to keep our roads maintained is one thing we can control,” Downer said.

Mayor Joe Matthews said there has been some preliminary discussion about developing a road use maintenance agreement for the city.

“As I recall (city engineer) Joe Tucker planned to talk with the county engineer’s office about how the county is handling road agreements with drilling companies,” he said. “But I definitely think we need an agreement. Other areas of the state are doing this now, and it will come about here, too.”

Marietta law director Paul Bertram III said the process of developing a RUMA would likely begin with a meeting including the city safety-service director, county commission president and county engineer.

“My intention would be to try and get together to formulate a document we could all agree with, to get everyone on the same page,” he said. “We should develop a consistent agreement to cover all general locations in Washington County, including state, county, city, village and township roadways.”

Bertram added as state funding to help local governments with road maintenance becomes more limited, it makes good sense to have a road maintenance agreement in place to cover any damage that may result from oil and gas industry traffic.

On Thursday county engineer Roger Wright presented the county commissioners with a RUMA he has worked out with Triad Hunter Energy related to a company drilling project in Aurelius Township. He believes such a document could also be used for city roadways.

“I’m of the opinion that the Washington County RUMA as it currently stands should be able to be used for the cities, villages and townships,” he said. “I’m confident that the RUMA we have in place to protect county roads will also do the same for city roads.”

Jim Denny, president and chief operating officer for Triad Hunter, said once the document gets final approval from the county commissioners the company would sign onto the agreement.

“It took some time to get it executed on our part, but we wanted to be sure it’s done right,” he said. “It was about a two-month process, working with Roger to establish this agreement. And the basic language of this RUMA should cover other areas in which we’ll be working.”

Denny agreed that a county-wide RUMA, covering townships, villages, cities and county roads, would be helpful. He said Triad has been lobbying the state to develop a more all-encompassing agreement that would have greater regional coverage.

“Right now we’re dealing with different entities-the state, county, townships, and now cities,” he said.

Rocky Roberts, vice president of Appalachian Operations for Triad Hunter, said the state, Ohio Department of Transportation districts, and counties are trying to come up with a more standardized RUMA for the entire state that would be beneficial to everyone.

“Unfortunately in the state now, ODOT has an agreement for state roads, county engineers develop maintenance agreements for county and township roads, and city engineers may have another RUMA for city roads,” he said.

Denny said Triad would like to be part of the conversation as Marietta moves toward creating a road use agreement for the city.

David Rose, ODOT District 10 information officer, said the department has a template to help local governments develop a RUMA that fits their needs.

“We can provide assistance for counties, townships and cities,” he said. “And it’s important to move forward quickly to get these agreements in place (as oil and gas activity continues to increase).”

The Ohio Oil and Gas Association (OOGA) encourages communities to develop road use maintenance agreements.

“We do support these agreements. In fact, in order for a company to lease property for drilling a RUMA has to be in place,” said Mike Chadsey, director of public relations for OOGA.

He said the association likes to see a RUMA in place because it provides both the oil and gas company and the local government entity with a clear understanding of what’s expected, including the best routes and scheduling for transporting equipment.

“Operators try to stay on state routes that are built to handle heavier traffic and avoid bridges and school zones,” Chadsey explained, noting that a RUMA can designate the best roads for equipment as well as the best times for traveling those roadways, to avoid school bus traffic, for example.

He said RUMAs also help ensure the safety of heavy equipment drivers so they do not travel along routes that are not built to handle the weight.