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Bill Could Make Country Roads Safer

By Staff | Mar 3, 2010

Scenes such as these, above and below, have become fairly common on Wetzel County’s rural roads, particularly during snowy and icy weather. (Photos provided)

Multiple snow storms make bad driving conditions for all of us. Some of us are able to stay in the comfort of our homes while those who drive for a living, like delivery vehicles and emergency crews, work around the clock to restore power and phone service and provide other emergency aid. Also heavily on the roads are the many truckers whose work is associated with natural gas and drilling operations who are all expected to keep on trucking 24/7 in the cold weather and snow. Thankfully, most manage without a major incident.

However for one employee of a portable crane company, two accidents in two days was too much. His crane got stuck in a deep ditch going down a steep hill on Brock Ridge on Feb. 9. He was pulled out the next day and later that same day had the misfortune to be driving on the same road on another steep, icy section where he slid backwards and then slid completely over the hill. All 10 tires were up in the air with the driver down below. He was pulled out after the cab windows were broken. Three days later three enormous tow trucks were able to pull the equipment back up onto the road.

A representative of Anthony Crane in Pittsburgh spoke very highly of his workforce and was glad his driver was not injured. The crane was towed back to Pennsylvania where it will be repaired and put back into service.

This is just one of many stories the community has been hearing or experiencing. While local officials and concerned community members have done their part to help keep rural residents safe on our narrow country roads during this winter season, natural gas resource transportation still remains a big safety issue in the county.

Thanks to ongoing conversation, precautions are being adopted. The state government and the companies associated with the drilling projects are becoming aware and many are working together to find the best solution to fit all parties.

Del. Dave Pethtel (D-Wetzel) introduced a bill to the legislature recently based on requests made by the Wetzel County Action Group (WCAG) pertaining to natural gas resource transportation. A companion bill was also introduced to the Senate. The purpose of House Bill 4616 is to create the natural gas resources transportation road system and to regulate the transportation of equipment and materials on those roads.

Included in the bill are several regulations to help ensure the safety of the community and rural residents as well as the operators of large vehicles carrying equipment or materials related to natural gas resources. In the proposed bill, the Department of Highways (DOH) would establish all legal vehicle weight and size limits for all public highways including roads within the natural gas resource transportation road system, and would establish a temporary road designation to apply only during the period of time that a natural gas drilling activity is underway. Signs would be posted on natural gas resource transportation roads informing the public of the designation and also list a toll-free telephone line for public reporting of poor driving or law violations by special permit operators.

There are also proposed requirements for 24 hours of mandatory specialized training for commercial vehicles operators with less than two years of commercial driving experience and all commercial operators using the natural gas resource transportation roads who have less than one year of commercial driving experience on mountainous rural roads. Several other suggested rules include random drug and alcohol testing, mandatory reporting of accidents, and daily records consistent with the provisions of any applicable federal statutory or regulatory requirements.

Additionally outlined in Pethtel’s bill are procedures and penalties regarding work-related accidents. Whenever any accident occurs on or about a road designated as part of the natural resources transportation road system, the operator would be required to notify the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management of the accident regardless of whether another vehicle is involved in the accident or whether any injuries occurred. If the accident occurs in an area where cellular telephone service is not available, the operator would contact the drilling site or the trucking company’s headquarters via radio. The radio operator would then immediately notify the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management of the accident and its precise location.

In addition to any other penalty or sanction provided by law, the commissioner of the Division of Motor Vehicles would suspend the driver’s license of a commercial vehicle driver for a period of one year if it is determined that the driver failed to give notice as would be required. And in addition to any other penalty or sanction provided by law, the commissioner of Environmental Protection would impose a civil administrative penalty of $50,000 on a natural gas well owner if it is determined that the radio operator failed to give notice.

In other recent and related developments, the West Virginia Farm Bureau endorsed House Bill 4566 during the West Virginia legislative session on Feb. 19.

The bill provides guidelines for a relationship between oil and gas extractors and the owners of surface rights and mineral interests. Unlike other surface owners rights, this bill addresses specifics such as valuation of timber, secondary road inspection, landowner’s right of redemption of minerals, reflection of mineral ownership in deeds, supervision of contractors, and notification of landowners before any work begins.

House Bill 4566 was referred to Energy, Industry and Labor, Economic Development and Small Business, and will then go to Judiciary.

These are just a few of the many issues addressed in recent bills. To track the progress of these and other bills, visit the West Virginia Legislature’s Web site at “http://www.legis.state.wv.us”>www.legis.state.wv.us.