(Sidney, MT and Williston, ND – YPR) – The amount of semi-truck traffic in the Bakken oil field communities is stunning.
“It isn’t uncommon that you will come through here (intersection in Williston) and see that the trucks will be backed up for a mile,” says Williston Economic Development Executive Director Tom Rolfstad. “They all have to take a left hand turn here, so it gets to be a real bottleneck.”
Williston officials want to create a truck route to divert semi traffic around the community.
“You can see the ration of trucks here,” Rolfstad says. “We are approaching 40% truck traffic on our roads. The highway engineers say 12% truck traffic is considered to be high.”
The volume of the semi traffic is undermining the road beds under paved and gravel roads. The roads designed to handle just moderate truck and farm traffic, since both Sidney, Montana and Williston, North Dakota are agriculture-based communities.
Richland Economic Development Executive Director Leslie Messer in Sidney says in the Spring when gravel roads are slick and muddy, the farmers most likely will idle their tractors.
“This industry (oil) doesn’t stop,” she says. “They’re dragging. They’re pushing. They are pulling. They are thrashing the (road) beds if they can’t get in there.”
Messer says it will take about 2,200 semi loads to service 1 oil well over that well’s lifetime. Most of the activity is in the drilling phase when loads of water, sand, pipe, and other materials are delivered to the site.
She says some of the oil companies are repairing the damage they cause to the roads otherwise its up to local government as part of its road maintenance program.
“We’ve built lots of roads for Richland County. Glad to do so,” says Russell Atkins, area production manager of the Bakken Operations for Continental Resources. “We needed the road to that (oil) well.”
He says in instances where there is no road but Richland County had the right-of-way, Continental would build a road and leave the maintenance to the counties in Montana and North Dakota. The affected counties are looking to their respective state Capitols and the federal Transportation Rea-authorization bill to help pay for the costs of building and maintaining affected oil patch roads.
“All that we ask is once it is built up and the drilling activity has subsided please maintain it. We’re glad to build it,” he says. “We get a few that think, ‘well, you are just going to build it, maintain it, and do everything from now on.’ It doesn’t work quite like that,” Atkins says.
Atkins says the oil companies are working at a furious pace to lock up leases with production wells. He says 90% of the work remains. Atkins calls the Bakken oil play world class. He places this portion of the Williston Basin right up with reserves in Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
“Our estimates of recoverable oil is 24 billion barrels. That’s 20 of oil and 4 of barrels of oil equivalent of natural gas. To do this is going to take 48,000 wells,” he says.
Besides all of the semi-truck activity needed to carry out that work, there’s also an increase of pick-up truck traffic, notes Williston Economic Development’s Tom Rolfstad.
“This is kinda a big ass pickup with a welding unit on the back,” says Rolfstad. “You kinda look like a wimp if you come here driving a Kia or a Subaru.”