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Oil patch counties too wet for oil trucks again

By Lauren Donovan, The Bismark Tribune

BISMARCK, N.D. — McKenzie and Mountrail counties were in the second day of closing gravel roads to heavy oil traffic Thursday after yet another round of rain and snow mix caused soft mud to develop.

To prevent damage, both counties restricted vehicles heavier than 12,000 pounds from being out on gravel roads, with the exception of school buses.

McKenzie County Emergency Manager Jerry Samuelson said the situation will be re-evaluated Friday morning, after closing the roads late Wednesday afternoon.

In Mountrail County, roads were closed to heavy oil traffic Wednesday morning. Commissioner Greg Boschee said the situation would be re-evaluated depending on dry conditions and sunshine.

It is the second time in two weeks oil patch counties have closed roads to prevent semis from churning deep ruts into the road surfaces.

Boschee said it isn’t popular with oil companies, which complain the closures cost them millions of dollars.

“The damage is costing us millions, too. Last time we did this, I got a call from the governor’s office and I said they could send us some money to fix the roads and we won’t have this problem. They said they’d look into it,” Boschee said.

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North Dakota Petroleum Council Director Ron Ness said the financial impact to the industry is huge when roads are closed.

“It would be shocking to put a dollar figure per hour to the businesses out there with trucks and employees sitting, when you spin your drilling rig instead of drilling,” Ness said.

He said drilling and completion schedules are complex and movements are scheduled on a day-by-day basis.

“Every system backs up. Wells are pumping and storage are filling and a lot of industry assets are at risk,” Ness said.

He said no one blames the counties for taking preventive steps and said the council has worked with counties to provide email lists so everyone is in contact and on the same page.

He said the council did ask counties to close only some roads in some areas, if wet conditions are not persistent across the entire county.

Boschee said despite comments to the contrary, “We’re not being mean. We’re just trying to save the roads so people and the oil companies can use them.”

Ness said efforts should continue to improve the road infrastructure in the oil patch.

And, he said, “Nice weather never hurts. Really, it has been a pretty good spring with a slow thaw.”

Williams County remained dry enough this week and didn’t close its gravel roads, road Superintendent Dennis Nelson said.

Reach reporter Lauren Donovan at 701-220-5511 or lauren@westriv.com.

Copyright 2014 Bismarck Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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