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Dunn County, oil companies look at solutions to improving roads

Press Photo by Sean M. Soehren North Dakota Petroleum Council President Ron Ness speaks about his concern with a proposed road agreement in front of an assembly at a Dunn County Commission special meeting in the Dunn County Courthouse in Manning on Tuesday.

MANNING -- A proposed agreement between Dunn County and oil companies that would help keep up the county roads was heavily criticized during a special meeting at the Dunn County Courthouse on Tuesday afternoon.

About 40 people assembled to hear the discussion of a contract that would have the county and oil companies working together to maintain impacted roads.

The Dunn County Road Department proposed a deal that would put the responsibility of road maintenance on oil companies from the time a drilling location is established to completion of fracturing.

North Dakota Petroleum Council President Ron Ness said his group was in "absolute opposition" of the proposal. He said because the roads are traveled by the public and many different parties from the industry, it is difficult to place liability.

"It is pretty hard to say that any one operator, solely that operator, travels this road and is responsible for all of it," Ness said.

The roads would be inspected before a project began, Road Superintendent Mike Zimmerman said. Companies would be expected to return the road to its pre-existing condition after completion of the job.

Brian Gilmour, a representative from Hunt Oil Co. of Minot, said that the county may not have the means to keep up with inspections if every company had to file a permit before beginning a project.

He added that the agreement would benefit the county and oil companies.

"Our whole point is to make it safer and provide decent surface for you guys (oil companies) and the traveling public," Zimmerman said.

He added that requiring oil companies to pay for road maintenance would provide negative feedback to the Legislature since the county received oil impact grants.

"What we are trying to find is a solution to help maintain the roads that are used the most by the oil industry and contractors," Commission Chairman Daryl Dukart said. "Not the whole county, just certain roads."

About 200 miles of the 1,200 miles of county road are impacted, Dukart said.

Russel Atkins of Continental Resources said most companies would not have a problem helping to improve roads because poor roads affect their operations as well as the general public. However, he said it can get complex determining how much each company owes when there are multiple companies adjacent to one road.

Atkins proposed that companies provide equipment and workers that would be supervised by the county to complete road maintenance.

Dukart said that may be a plausible solution.

"It would be similar of in-kind work, done under the county supervision," he said.

Subcontractors are causing significant damage, as well, Dukart said.

He said after the meeting that about 65 miles of Dunn county road is damaged by companies hauling scoria or gravel to be placed at locations outside of the county.

Commissioners will discuss the agreement at their next meeting.