July 17, 2019


By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

It seems that every time that McKenzie County Road Department officials make the decision to restrict the county’s unpaved, gravel roads to 12,000 pounds gross vehicle weight due to rains, the decision is met with a fair amount of complaints. No one, whether they are farmers who need to move farm equipment or truckers who need to move fluids or equipment across the oil patch, wants to have their work stopped because of weight restrictions being placed on county roads.
But last week when the skies opened and a torrential 24-hour downpour deposited up to eight inches of rain across parts of McKenzie County, there was not one complaint when the county made the call to restrict load weights.
As the rain began to fall on Tuesday morning and the decision was made to restrict the load limits, no one could have guessed how much rain was coming. Or how much the rainfall would vary across the county. But the decision by the county was the right one to make and prevented millions of dollars in road repairs had heavy trucks tore the roads up.
While farmers, ranchers and other area residents travel daily on the county’s gravel roads, it is the oil and gas industry that has come to rely on the county’s road network to get to new and existing oil well locations, natural gas pipeline routes and natural gas processing plants. From trucks hauling fresh and salt water to and from the well sites to trucks hauling drilling rigs and thousands of white pickups traveling those roads, when rains close county roads the industry suffers in a big way.
And last week’s rains that closed the roads in North Dakota’s and the nation’s largest oil producing county, resulted in economic impacts that are very mind-boggling.
According to Ron Ness, North Dakota Petroleum Council president, that 24-hour shutdown of county roads cost the oil and gas industry approximately $26 million in lost revenue that will never be recovered. In addition, based on current production and oil prices, in that one-day period, McKenzie County lost $400,000 in oil and gas tax receipts.
Everyone understands the importance of having quality roads in McKenzie County. Likewise no one wants to see the 1,8000 miles of gravel roads in the county destroyed as a result of heavy truck traffic following significant rainfall events.
McKenzie County officials made the right call last Tuesday morning to close all county gravel roads to vehicles above 12,000 pounds gross vehicle weight. While it may have cost the oil and gas industry millions of dollars, it saved county taxpayers millions of dollars in road repairs.
Imposing road restrictions isn’t something that county officials take lightly. They understand the impacts to the people who rely on these roads, as well as to the oil and gas industry that saw 15,000 workers idled in McKenzie County last week when the rains hit.
But until all county roads are paved, which isn’t likely to occur, McKenzie County officials will still be forced to place road weight limit restrictions during significant rain events.