The oilfield is getting its very own meteorologist to go along with a network of weather stations that is being set up for the new WISE Roads program. The program’s aim is to help counties refine road restrictions when conditions are too wet for travel.
The Oil and Gas Research Council recommended approving a grant to help pay 50 percent of the individual’s salary on Oct. 15, and the Industrial Commission approved the recommendation on Tuesday, Oct. 22. The other 50 percent of the salary will come from surcharges for the Load Pass Permit system.
The WISE Roads program is already installing an additional 15 NDAWN weather stations in northwestern North Dakota. They are in addition to 10 that were installed earlier this year. All 25 of the new stations will be included in the state’s NDAWN network, which also provides meteorological data to agricultural producers.
The meteorologist is also a new addition to the WISE Roads program, along with the 15 new weather stations. His name is Jonathon Rosencrans, and he was formerly employed by NDAWN. He is already setting up his oilfield weather station headquarters in Mountrail County.
“We are going to have skads and skads of data,” said Geoff Simon, executive director for the Western Dakota Energy Association. “We have to make sure we make it accessible and widely available. And then part of Jon’s work will also be in training people how to use the data and how to interpret what they are seeing to better manage the roads.”
Rosencrans will likely also help forecast weather events in the region.
“With Jon’s abilities, perhaps we can give the industry a 2, 4, 6-hour warning that we expect a line of storms to from between Williston and Watford City about 4 this afternoon, somewhere in there,” Simon said. “If we can communicate that through Load Pass, we can issue a notice that this is what it looks like is going to happen. So if you have something you need to move, you might want to think about getting that done in the next few hours.”
Williams County already has one of its new NDAWN weather stations. It’s located about 2 miles southeast of Epping. The other three weather stations will be installed soon south of Tioga, north of Williston, and near the Confluence.
Dunn, Mountrail and McKenzie counties will also be getting four weather stations, and there will be two others outside the core of the Bakken, one in Stark County and one in Bowman County near Denbury’s enhanced oil recovery project.
The idea for WISE Roads was developed out of a roundtable discussion in 2018, organized by Western Dakota Energy Association. The conference brought oilfield industry executives together with city and county highway department officials to discuss problems posed by so much heavy truck traffic using several thousand miles of gravel roads never intended for such traffic.
A bone of contention during the meeting was road restrictions during wet weather events that sometimes included roads that were dry, and drivable as well as those that weren’t.
County officials, meanwhile, explained that in the absence of better data, they had to restrict these roads to ensure the base does not get destroyed. If the base is destroyed, that is a tremendously costly repair. Every highway mile costing a million or more to fix, even though it’s a gravel road.
A better network of weather stations could help the core counties of the Bakken have the data they need to refine road restrictions, Simon said. The weather stations will even include soil probes to record moisture, which might help further refine frost laws in the future.
The weather system and the meteorologist are being paid in part by surcharges for the Load Pass Permit System, and the data from it will eventually be provided as part of that system’s online portal.
“This is really kind of an extension to that program,” Simon said. “It’s an improvement to the Load Pass Permit System.”
But the stations will not only benefit the oil industry, Simon added. Although WDEA is purchasing and installing the stations, they are being incorporated into the NDAWN network.
“We will also have good data for drought-related insurance or flood claims,” Simon said. “This will be a huge benefit for agricultural producers as well.”