Let's sustain the Golden Energy Goose
Aug 1, 2012 12:00 PM, By John Conley
“Baseball … has been bera bera good … to me.”
Chico Escuela, Shortstop, Saturday Night Live
PARAPHRASING Garrett Morris' Weekend Update character, “Shale energy growth has been very very good for the trucking industry.” And just as the players who benefit most from the National Past Time often pose the greatest threat to its success, unsafe truck operators could cripple, if not kill, the Golden Energy Goose. It is up to safety savvy and committed shale producers and transporters to make sure that this does not happen.
Trucking has rightfully been called the “billboard for the shale industry.” It is trucks, and thankfully often tankers, that the public sees moving products to and from the growing shale exploration fields. Even when behaving well, those trucks can be a nuisance, especially to communities not accustomed to seeing heavy truck traffic. Trucks behaving badly or worse, those in crashes or overturned in someone's front yard, is fodder for the anti-shale forces.
For a very mature industry like the tank truck industry, the shale development boom has been like a steady summer rain on a parched July Midwestern plain. A significant source of new business has created more hauling opportunities, full order boards at tank truck manufacturers, and more of the jobs for which the American economy thirsts. I recently had the chance to drive through the Texas Eagle Ford region and was as impressed with the number of “Help Wanted” signs as I was with the waves of tank trucks across roads big and small; paved and dusty.
The US Energy Information Administration (www.eia.gov) reports that rail car deliveries of oil and petroleum products were up 38% in the first half of 2012. It is realistic to assume that most of that oil spent some time in a tank truck and that many more tank truck movements did not involve rail.
Tankers haul clean water to the well and wastewater away for disposal or treatment. They deliver drilling fluids and chemicals and haul crude oil and natural gas condensate from the wells. Dry bulk trailers provide a steady flow of sand and cement to disparate locations.
Randy Arlt of trailer manufacturer Polar Corporation cited some very impressive statistics during a presentation he made to a National Tank Truck Carriers meeting earlier this month. It takes up to 8,800 truckloads of materials to support an eight-well pad and the vast majority of those essential materials are hauled in tankers or dry bulkers. Each well requires some 70 loads of sand and 900 loads of water. Thirty percent of water hauled to the well is hauled back out as wastewater.
From Eagle Ford to Bakken to Marcellus to Utica to Haynesville and beyond, the future of North America satisfying its own energy demands seems endless. Gradually, citizens in states with backward thinking governors like those in New York and New Hampshire will clamor for the jobs and energy rewards of this gift of nature to America. Kneejerk naysayers who are more concerned about the occasional oil stain in the sands of Nebraska will be trumped by those more concerned about the blood stains of young Americans in the sandy waste-lands of the imploding Middle East.
So, what could be the stormy lining to this sunny picture? Again, trucking operators who don't know or don't care about safety and the producers who provide them loads represent the potential Achilles Heel of the shale energy nirvana. We often hear the shale distribution bonanza compared to the Wild Wild West. There are trucking opportunities galore in “them thar hills,” but a Have Truck; Will Travel gunslinger approach to safety could help lead to shale ghost towns.
Truck crashes, untrained or undisciplined drivers, and bad headlines could be the first domino to those local citizens or officials who want to shut things down. If you have any doubt that there are real challenges here, just Google “truck shale” and see what pops up among all the sleezeball lawyer ads.
The good news is that the trucking industry in general and the tank truck industry specifically know how to provide safe and efficient — but likely not the cheapest — transportation support to the shale market. There is no need to reinvent the safety wheel. It is up to responsible producers and transporters to bring the same safety culture to the shale arena that has been long found in the petroleum, chemical, dry bulk and food industries. Established tank truck carriers know how to operate safely in all environments and safety-conscious shippers know how to find and qualify those carriers.
National Tank Truck Carriers has been pleased to advocate for a level safety shale energy playing field with anyone who will listen, including carriers, shippers, the media, and law enforcement agencies. We have been especially impressed with the dedication to safety among the companies and organizations in the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA.) http://consumerenergyalliance.org.
Through that Alliance and in cooperation with the American Trucking Associations and the American Petroleum Institute, we will continue to push the safety message. We are working with CEA, NTTC members, and others to produce a Safe Energy Trucking information document that anyone interested in trucking safety can use to know what the rules are and how shale energy players can match the safety culture found throughout our industry.
Shale continues to offer North America a golden opportunity to gain energy independence, create jobs, and to expand the trucking industry and the jobs it provides. While we may never convince the public in these shale communities to love trucks, we all must work to ensure that our safe and respectful operations will help the public understand how essential trucks are to the successful development of this special resource. Please contact me at email@example.com if you have ideas on how we can advance this safety effort.