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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published June 07 2013

Rain could stop truck traffic in oil-rich ND county

WATFORD CITY, N.D. – Truck traffic in the North Dakota county with the most oil drilling could come to a halt this weekend to prevent further damage to rain-soaked gravel roads.

The McKenzie County Commission is prepared to prohibit vehicles heavier than 20,000 pounds from traveling on gravel roads if significant rain falls tonight or tomorrow, said Chairman Ron Anderson.

“I’m sure there will be people up in arms, but we just can’t take it anymore,” Anderson said.

Record-setting May rainfall exacerbated damage to the county’s gravel roads, estimated to cost $50 million, Anderson said.

The damage is not only expensive, but makes travel difficult for emergency responders, said Jerry Samuelson, McKenzie County emergency manager. One rut measured 17 inches deep, and that was after the road had been bladed, he said.

Some oil companies pulled trucks off the roads during the extremely wet weather, but gravel trucks and water haulers continued driving on the soft roads, Anderson said.

“They were pulling trucks down our roads,” he said.

McKenzie County has 74 active drilling rigs representing 40 percent of the state’s oil drilling activity.

A weight restriction of 20,000 pounds would essentially affect vehicles heavier than a pickup truck.

“At that level of road restrictions, then we can’t even move oil,” said Lynn Helms, director of the Department of Mineral Resources. “No oil, no water movements, anything like that.”

In McKenzie County, 70 percent of oil is transported by truck, according to the most recent figures.

“That would have a really serious short-term impact,” Helms said.

The other significant impact would be on hydraulic fracturing, which requires heavy equipment and trucks that haul water and sand.

The short-term impact on drilling rigs that are up and running would be less severe, Helms said.

Thunderstorms tonight through the first half of Saturday will likely result in one-fourth to one-half an inch of rain for McKenzie County, said Patrick Ayd, forecaster with the National Weather Service. Some localized areas could receive as much as one inch, Ayd said.

May was a wet month for McKenzie County. Grassy Butte, in the southeast portion of the county, set a new record for May rainfall with 6.69 inches of rain, the National Weather Service said.

Sunny weather the past few days has been drying out the roads.

McKenzie County officials will monitor the weather and make a determination based on how much rain falls, Samuelson said.

“This is truly unprecedented,” he said.

The county should have taken this type of measure during the wet spring of 2011, Anderson said.

“It took us a year to dig back out of that one,” he said.