Drilling trucks fail more tests, state police say

Tom Fontaine
| Thursday, Oct. 7, 2010

More than 40 percent of roadside inspections conducted this year on trucks involved in the Marcellus shale gas-drilling industry revealed significant safety violations, far surpassing the trucking industry's rate as a whole, state police said Wednesday.

"In some cases, you're looking at a disaster waiting to happen," said Lt. Ray Cook, commander of the commercial vehicle safety division.

Kathryn Klaber, president of the Cecil-based Marcellus Shale Coalition, said, "The safety of our workers and the communities in which we operate remains our top priority, and we will continue to work each day to address these issues."

State police last week conducted a three-day roadside inspection campaign, focusing on tankers hauling wastewater from gas drilling sites and other commercial vehicles supporting Marcellus shale operations.

Police conducted more than 1,100 inspections that resulted in 208 trucks and 64 drivers being taken off the road and 959 citations. Police said 140 of the trucks were hauling wastewater created by hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which involves shooting water into the rock formation to free the natural gas.

Playing on the industry term, police called their campaign "Operation FracNET." A similar crackdown in June resulted in 250 trucks and 45 drivers being taken off the road and 669 citations.

Of the vehicles taken out of service in the latest crackdown, 60 were from Allegheny, Fayette, Greene and Washington counties.

Common violations included trucks that exceeded weight limits or had leaking tankers, improperly adjusted brakes or unsecured equipment, Cook said.

When such problems are discovered, the lieutenant said, the trucks "don't move until the problem is corrected." Companies often must send mechanics to roadside sites to fix problems or dispatch another driver.

State police have been "actively tracking" Marcellus shale truckers since April, Cook said, but he denies they are "unnecessarily targeting" the industry. The industry deserves extra attention, he said.

Since April, he said, 41 percent of inspections on Marcellus shale trucks and truckers resulted in violations that took them off the road. The trucking industry average is 23 percent, he said.

Studies show one well can generate up to 1,300 round trips by truckers heading to and from the site while it's drilled for natural gas, Cook said.

"They are putting very high volumes onto very rural, narrow roadways," he said.

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