Antero Doing Road Maintenance in Doddridge & Tyler Counties — Part 1

by S. Tom Bond on December 20, 2019

Repaving Sellers Road near Middlebourne in Tyler County, WV

Shale roads: How gas producers handle the wear and tear

From an Article by David Beard, Morgantown Dominion Post, December 13, 2019

MORGANTOWN — It’s early November and a mini-parade of heavy equipment is churning up Sellers Road in Tyler County. The nearly 6.25-mile stretch running along Middle Island Creek near Middlebourne was widened and received a rebuilt base, new pavement, culverts and improved drainage, costing $7 million. “Basically we’re building a whole new road,” said Shawn Bennett, road and special projects construction manager for Antero.

After the New Year, the road will host a full-size parade of oil and gas traffic to serve two Antero well pads: Roma Lou and Eldon.

The visit was the conclusion of a day viewing Antero road projects in Doddridge and Tyler counties. Asked if he had a message for West Virginia residents, Bennett said, “If they would go around and look at any place that we’ve been, and have a little patience, we will always leave it better than what we found it.”

Anyone who has driven West Virginia’s shale country has seen the beat-up roads. And, anyone who’s spent a day at the Capitol has heard complaints about the wear and tear.

Among our first stories on the fracking industry were visits in 2011 to Brock Ridge and Proctor Creek roads in the hills of Wetzel County. Proctor Creek was potholed and rutted while kidney-jarring Brock Ridge had no asphalt left (we’ll mention them again later).

But a hallway conversation with leaders of the Independent Oil and Gas Association–West Virginia during the 2019 legislative session led to this story: a new tour of shale roads to see what gas companies are doing these days to try to keep roads in shape.

Riding along with Bennett that November day was Anne Blankenship, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, and two staffers with Charles Ryan Associates, which represents IOGA and WVONGA and helped set up the tour and field written questions.

Bennett also drove us along the Oxford Road Upgrade, between Sunnyside and Taylor Drain roads in Doddridge County. This was a five-mile, $3.2 million combined effort between Antero and EQT. With Antero taking on 55% of the cost, EQT the rest.

This is a busy area – 18 sites for Antero alone, and this particular stretch had numerous road base failures, Bennett said. The Antero/EQT contractor milled off 3 inches of the failing road and put down 7 new inches of asphalt. “It made for a nice project out here.”

The state agreed to take care of culverts and ditching, but on the day of the ride was running behind and had completed only half the ditching, he said. The poor draining also explain why the repair job was showing some signs of edge collapse at a few points along the way.

To determine what needs to be done to a stretch of road, Bennett said, Antero takes into account the number of well pads and the expected amount of traffic in the area. It does advance work, maintains it during the project, and completes any after-project repairs. Antero is responsible for the road until it’s released from its state Division of Highways bond.

Here’s what Antero has spent each year in upgrades, snow plowing, maintenance and flagging since 2015: 2015, $22,395,974; 2016, $21,389,936; 2017, $32,548,633; 2018, $30,794,236; 2019, $39,926,604.

Antero will generally present a proposal to the DOH for it to sign off on the engineering plans, he said. The state doesn’t always need to give its OK. But “we generally like to keep them as informed as we can and make sure that thy’re OK with what we plan to do.”

For any project, routine maintenance falls to the DOH, who will do ditching during the bond period, unless the state agrees otherwise, as with the Oxford project.

Often, several companies may be operating the same area, all contributing to road wear, Bennett said. “That’s probably the biggest challenge we run into, is figuring out who’s responsible for what. There’s so many operators active on any given road.”

Some are mom and pops. “Usually the Anteros and the EQTs are the ones that end up footing the bill for the most part. It’s just hard to pinpoint.”

A frequent complaint voiced back in 2011, and after, could be summed up as “bad-neighbor policy.” Producers didn’t pay attention to local school and work schedules and jammed them at crucial times, hogged the roads and forced residents into ditches or onto shoulders, and more.

While Antero doesn’t have formal community meetings, Bennett said, it takes school bus and commuting schedules into account. Residents in tri-county area – Doddridge-Ritchie-Tyler – have the Antero number and can call with complaints and concerns. “Our public relations department has helped out tremendously with public relations and with our relationship with the state.”

Antero employees have GPS trackers in the vehicles and Antero encourages its contractors to do the same, to keep drivers accountable for their driving.

One homeowner on the driving route had giant anti-EQT signs posted in the yard. Because of publication deadline, EQT was unable to meet for an interview but supplied a brief statement:

“Because EQT values all of the communities where we operate, we know how important it is to manage any potential impacts to the roads in these areas. Our approach is to work with counties and municipalities in advance to proactively upgrade roads and ensure that they are suitable.

“In many cases, the roads we upgrade are improved compared to their condition before we started work. We don’t have many ongoing projects in West Virginia at the moment, but we will continue this proactive approach with any new operations. Our acreage and the communities where we operate in West Virginia are very important to EQT.”

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Mary Wildfire December 20, 2019 at 8:17 am

This amounts to DP giving Antero and EQT some free PR space.

I wonder what Bill Hughes of Wetzel County would have to say about it if he were still alive.

But plenty of people in the fracking areas do have a lot to say, hopefully they’ll see this and comment appropriately.

Mary Wildfire, Roane County, WV


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