With growth of the gas and oil industry looming in the Utica shale, another water pipeline could potentially cost the water trucking industry some much-needed jobs.
The Youngstown & Southern Railroad, now owned by the Columbiana County Port Authority, stretches 37 miles from Youngstown, Ohio, to Darlington, Penn. Aqua Infrastructure, a subsidiary of Aqua America, is in the process of buying the property.
“We have an exclusivity agreement with the authority that gives us approximately 90 days to do our due diligence; to be sure there are no issues with the property we’re buying,” says Karl Kyriss, Aqua Infrastructure president.
“We are expected and planning to have an operator on the rail line,” he continues. “There’s a lot of opportunity to redevelop the use of that short line to provide materials and supplies to the Utica. We will be ahead of the curve with development, unlike how things developed in Pennsylvania with the Utica boom.”
Under Aqua Infrastructure’s possession, the Y&S Railroad would be maintained and kept operational. They would also use the area next to the railroad to build a pipeline to transport water throughout the Utica shale. “As the need for more water into the Utica occurs, we will use portions of the right-of-way along the shoulder of the railroad to put a pipeline for water supply,” says Kyriss. “Water movement by rail is the next step up from just using straight trucks.”
Kyriss also estimates that the job market will be improved rather than thwarted by the pipeline. “I’ll probably be creating more initial trucking opportunities,” he says. “I’ll be replacing the long-haul truckers with short-haul truckers and I think the truckers would prefer that.”
Doug Berkley, marketing manager of Somerset Regional Water Resources in Somerset, Penn., believes the pipeline will have a lasting effect on the industry. “The water pipeline will reduce the amount of truck traffic and in turn, perhaps negate some business for water transport via trucks in the surrounding area,” he says. “The temporary jobs created by pipeline construction are good but will cost more long-term driving positions.”
With the average Utica well producing 774 barrels of oil per day, Tom Mikes, president of Youngstown Kenworth, says the trucking industry is lightly affected by the introduction of water pipelines. “It does eliminate some truck usage,” he says, noting that with an average distance of 20 miles between well sites, trucks will still be in demand.
Eric Planey, vice president of international business attraction for the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, says there’s some good and bad to everything. “I think it’s a net positive,” he says. “Having that logistical infrastructure in place is good. A lot of communities are worried about the amount truck traffic increases on country roads. So taking some of that off the roads is a net positive for the communities. Truckers will still find new opportunities for business.”
While the pipeline could reduce the amount of necessary water truckers, Berkley points out that drilling companies usually pay for roadway upgrades and almost always leave roads in better shape after the drilling is done than before they arrived, giving local residents better roads at no taxpayer expense. “Less truck traffic will mean less noise, as well,” he says. “As we have found in Northeastern Pennsylvania operations, the two can usually coexist. There will always be a need for water trucks.”
The oil and gas industry will continue to have its ups and downs. With another potential pipeline to transport water on the horizon, water-trucking operations can safeguard against job loss through continual growth and expansion.