Oil boom's gloom: Rough roads, traffic encircle Eagle Ford Shale

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by Joe Conger / KENS 5

Bio | Email | Follow: @joe_conger

kens5.com

Posted on May 1, 2012 at 10:10 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 2 at 7:14 AM

SAN ANTONIO -- Tray Vickery was a popular local boy with a bright future in Kenedy, Texas -- a future fueled by the exploration of the Eagle Ford Shale play.

The oil and gas industry gave Tray his job. But it also had a part in taking his life.
“We weren’t ready for all the activity, as a community, as a county. That’s been tough,” said his father, Tommy Vickery.
In March, Vickery was involved in a collision with an oncoming 18-wheeler. The big rig struck Vickery’s pickup in the early morning fog, less than a mile from his home, killing him.
Tray’s mother, Rosemary Vickery, said: “It’s a daily struggle. It’s not that we don’t know where Trey is. There’s an overwhelming peace in knowing where our son is. It’s just the learning-how-to-live-without-him part.”
“It’s not if you’re going to have an accident. It is when you’re going to have an accident,” Karnes County Sheriff David Jalufka said.
Since January, seven people have died in traffic accidents in Karnes County. This year, deputies have ticketed more than a thousand drivers — up 700 percent from years past.
 
Getting more deputies
 
Jalufka said enough is enough and petitioned commissioners for the biggest chunk of change ever requested from Karnes County: $534,000 to double his patrol force while he waits for TxDOT to catch up with installing traffic lights and other safety measures.
 
Commissioners approved his request, and now the sheriff has a different problem: trying to find housing for his officers in this boom town.
 
“There’s no place to go. These deputies wish to move here -- some of them wish to relocate -- but the housing is unheard of,” Jalufka said.
 
Road congestion and upkeep are at the top of the lists of concerns in small Texas towns trying to cope with exploding populations.
 
The state collects a permit fee from each overweight truck that rumbles along a Texas highway.
In theory, the money is supposed to go to help maintain roads and bridges.
 
Last year, the state collected $114 million but sent only $82 million to the highway fund.
 
That’s not enough money to cover repairs in even one county in the Eagle Ford Shale play.
 
Seeking funds for repairs
 
“You can drive through a plowed field; it’s smoother than the roads,” said an angry motorist.
 
“Some of the roads, the remaining pavement is probably three foot or four foot wide on our county roads. It's very devastating.”
 
The ride is rough in DeWitt County, another area plagued by oilfield traffic.
 
“Our quantified road damage could be anywhere from $50 million to $100 million over time. Our annual budget is only $13 million,” DeWitt County Judge Daryl Fowler said.
 
DeWitt County isn’t oil rich, but its roads connect the patches of oil and gas with refineries down south. Instead of striking oil, the county struck deals.
 
Fowler said two oil companies have agreed to pay $8,000 per well to help pay for road repairs.
 
“Our mission right now is to stabilize: to keep it safe for the school buses, the postal carriers and the emergency personnel,” Fowler added.

Companies like Petrohawk Energy and Pioneer Natural Resources said they are working similar deals in other counties.
 
But the Vickerys say real costs should be measured by the safety of those who travel and have to live with the consequences, even after the Eagle Ford Shale play... plays out.
 
“I’m definitely concerned about all the youth down here and the elderly people down here, especially those two groups. Just to be cautious, just to be careful,” Tommy Vickery said.

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