ADAMS TOWNSHIP - As Colorado-based PDC Energy continues to develop its first horizontal hydraulic fracturing facility northeast of Lowell, local residents say they are glad to see improvements the company has already made to a 3-mile stretch of Dixon Ridge Road.
"This road was in such terrible shape I was concerned that it was damaging our car but the improvements have made it 100 percent better," said Dea Welch, who lives across the road from the site where PDC has just completed groundwork for the first drilling pad in Washington County.
"I think they're doing a good job on the road so far, but they still have to bring in the drilling rig and equipment," said Steve Schmidt, who was mowing his mother's property along Dixon Ridge Road Tuesday.
He noted PDC has to be sure the road is in good enough shape that heavy drilling equipment can be transported to the site.
The road work, being performed by United Sealing of Devola under contract with PDC Energy, includes graveling and widening of the roadway and installation of culverts and other drainage structures. Much of that work is covered under a Road Use Maintenance Agreement (RUMA) between PDC, Adams Township and Washington County.
Another RUMA, for roads accessing two more PDC drilling sites to be built in Waterford Township, has been inked by the Washington County Commissioners and has been sent to Denver, Colo., for PDC officials to sign.
By entering into the agreement, drilling companies basically promise to repair and maintain roads damaged due to the movement of trucks and other heavy drilling equipment over county or township roadways.
"Before the company can even get started on road improvements to a well site, we negotiate the road use agreement," said Washington County Engineer Roger Wright.
He said a pre-condition survey is conducted on the roadway and the drilling company submits plans to the county showing what improvements the company wants to make before the work is done. If it's a township road Wright also reviews those plans with the township trustees.
"When the company eventually leaves the drilling site, we also review the roadway to see if any damage has been done," Wright said. "According to the road use agreement they'll fix any damage and put the road back in as good or better shape than when they began."
He noted it's not uncommon for drilling companies to finish an operation but later return to that site to drill more wells, so the county allows the RUMA to be suspended temporarily in such cases in order to alleviate additional paperwork if a site is reopened.
"The company also coordinates the road work with local school districts to minimize impacts to bus routes," Wright said.
Adams Township Trustee Wayne Isner called the RUMA with PDC "one of the best things that's happened for this township."
"The money they've already spent on culverts, stone and everything else is probably in the hundreds of thousands of dollars-and we couldn't have spent that much on our township roads in 20 years," he said, noting all of the county's townships have been dealing with budget cuts over the last couple of years.
"PDC has done everything they told us they would do on this road. And they've never tried to 'buffalo' us," Isner added. "We would highly suggest that all of the townships work with the county to develop a road use agreement with these drilling companies. If anyone has any questions they should come out (on Dixon Ridge Road) and take a look."
County Commissioner Ron Feathers said the road improvements by PDC have addressed issues like drainage that the township nor county could have afforded to fix in such a short period of time.
"Before the work began I reached out to other areas of the state like Carroll County where oil and gas companies have been doing horizontal drilling," he said. "In 2011 those companies spent nearly $30 million on road improvements there."
Feathers said Washington County may not see that amount of roadwork by companies like PDC but entering into Road Use Maintenance Agreements makes sense to protect the local county and township roadways.
"We encourage all of the trustees to participate in road use agreements if companies are planning to set up operations in their townships," he said.
Dixon Ridge Road resident Adena Matheny lives less than a quarter mile off the new PDC drilling pad.
"We've lived here for five years now, and the company has been improving the road up to the entrance to the site," she said.
"We used to call the hill leading up to the drilling site 'Washboard Hill' because it was so bad for years. It's in much better shape now."