Battered county roads deserve an investment from the rainy day fund
By Sen. Carlos Uresti and Sen. Kel Seliger
Advanced drilling techniques have spurred an oil boom in South and West Texas that is bringing economic prosperity not just to those regions, but to the entire state. The surge in oil and gas production holds great promise for our future as well — but only if we maintain the infrastructure that supports it.
That means taking care of our roads.
A consensus has emerged in the Legislature that the time has come to address our transportation infrastructure needs. And it is likely that Texas voters will get a chance in November to approve a constitutional amendment allowing for money from the rainy day fund to be spent on roads.
We believe that a portion of those funds should be used to repair and maintain county roads in high-impact energy producing areas. County roads, many of which are not even paved, were not designed to take on the punishing burden of oil patch trucks carrying heavy loads of fracking sand, water, and drilling equipment. With almost half of the nation's drilling activity taking place in Texas, these roads have taken quite a beating and are badly in need of repair.
It's estimated that a county road used for drilling one oil and gas well will endure the equivalent of 8 million passenger vehicles. Some 5,400 wells have been permitted in the Eagle Ford Shale region alone, and it's projected that 24,000 wells will be operating by 2022. Since 2009, the Permian Basin, the largest oil and gas producing region in the lower 48 states, has produced over 1 billion barrels of oil. And now there is the promise of the Cline Shale development on the eastern shelf of the Permian Basin; the U.S. Geological Survey says it’s the largest Permian Basin discovery in the past 50 years.
Counties are primarily responsible for the repair and maintenance of county roads, and counties in the Eagle Ford Shale and Permian Basin areas cannot keep pace with all the maintenance and repair needs. They must have help from the state, and it's in everyone's best interest to see that they get it.
According to the Texas Independent Producers & Royalty Owners Association’s “State of Energy Report,” the oil and gas industry in Texas employed about 379,800 people in Texas last year, almost 40 percent of the national total. Texas has 11,700 oil and gas businesses — about 28 percent of all such businesses in the nation are based here — and the average wage for an oil and gas worker in Texas last year was $128,100.
The numbers show how important this industry is to Texas and to the country. It provides tax revenues for counties and school districts, helps sustain the state and local economies, pays a living wage to working families, and is pushing the amount of money in the rainy day fund to historic highs.
We want the oil boom to continue, and that means keeping these roads in good shape. The energy production industry can't contribute to the economy if their trucks can't get in and out of the drilling sites that are only accessible by county roads. If we fail to maintain them, we could kill the "Golden Goose" that is providing so much prosperity.
To help counties deal with this problem, Senate Bill 1747 would create County Energy Transportation Reinvestment Zones. Once a county established such a zone, it could qualify for repair and maintenance funds based on the number of well completions, the number of weight tolerance permits, and the taxes collected from production for each county. Counties would also have to provide reports documenting road deterioration and contribute a match of up to 10 percent for road projects.
This bill establishes a mechanism that counties can employ, and the constitutional amendment would create a reliable funding stream. If the Legislature signs off on this approach — and we're hopeful that it will — then Texas voters will have their say this fall.
Unless you're traveling to a hunting lease, feeding cattle, or visiting your grandparents' ranch, you may never drive on a county road. But that doesn't mean they don't deserve your support. If there's an oil lease along the way, it's a road to our future.