North Carolina could require energy exploration companies to pay to repair state roads after a fracking operation is completed, state transportation officials told lawmakers Tuesday.
Drilling is heavily dependent on dump trucks, tanker trucks and 18-wheel rigs that chew up the kinds of two-lane country roads that criss-cross North Carolina's rural counties where shale gas exploration is expected to get underway.
But Republican Sen. E.S. "Buck" Newton of Wilson warned that North Carolina's road maintenance protections must not impede drilling. Newton is a member of the Joint Legislative Commission on Energy Policy.
"We want to get this industry up and moving," Newton told transportation officials. "I don't want our process to be more onerous.
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"I want our process to be less onerous but more rigorous."
Fracking could start as early as next spring when the state's safety rules go into effect for energy exploration. As part of that process, the N.C. Department of Transportation will submit a study Jan. 1 that was requested by the legislature to examine the impact of fracking on local roads, particularly in Lee, Moore and Chatham counties where fracking is most likely to begin.
To insure that drillers restore damaged roads to their original condition, DOT will require a surety bond of $100,000 per each mile of roadway used to haul equipment and materials, which could come to several million dollars for a site, said DOT engineer Brandon Jones.
Such agreements are common in other states where shale gas exploration is underway. DOT will ask lawmakers to write road use maintenance agreements into state law so that there is no ambiguity about the the transportation department's authority to enforce repairs.
Jones assured lawmakers that North Carolina's proposed surety bonds are not onerous and have not generated criticism from the industry. Rebuilding a roadway costs more than $300,000 per mile, he said.
The road maintenance agreements would cover repairs for secondary roads that were not designed for heavy truck traffic.
DOT officials would also like surety bonds of $360 per each square foot of bridge, even though rebuilding a bridge costs more than $600 per square foot, Jones said.
He said a rural bridge that's now crossed by two or three trucks a month could see that increase to 600 crossings a month with trucks carrying sand, chemicals and heavy equipment.
After the update, Republican Sen. Bob Rucho of Matthews extolled the fracking industry's community benefits.
"Some of the roads that started out in Pennsylvania were dirt pathways, and they were paved with asphalt," Rucho said.