wise roads 2019

A map showing the location of the first 10 of 25 new weather stations being placed in northwestern North Dakota.

Both the agriculture and the oil industry will benefit from an unusual partnership that will bring at least 25 more weather stations to the West, and possibly as many as 50, if funding is approved.

Called Wise Roads, the project arose from a roundtable discussion on roads sponsored by Western Dakota Energy Association for representatives of the oil and gas industry and county officials. Among the most discussed topics were road restrictions as a result of weather.

When it is too wet, an overweight truck can easily destroy the subbase of a gravel road. That’s not a cheap repair. One county official estimated during the discussion that it costs $1.5 million per mile to fix.

Such high cost prompts many counties to err on the side of caution when issuing road restrictions on gravel roads after a precipitation event has caused wet conditions, but, on the flip side, road restrictions can also be very costly to the oil and gas industry as well.

“If they have to shut in a well, that is a real expense to the industry,” said Geoff Simon, executive director of the Western Dakota Energy Association. “It can cost a company in the millions.”

After the roundtable, Simon began looking at possible solutions. A past business relationship with Daryl Ritchison, director of the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network, suggested a potential solution.

The NDAWN system doesn’t have as many weather stations out west as it could use. Richardson has actively sought partnerships to bring more weather stations to the west to improve its data.

A partnership with them to bring more weather stations out west was thus an easy sell.

Under the terms of the agreement, WDEA is paying for the weather stations and their ongoing maintenance, while NDAWN is installing them and will own them afterward.

So far, 10 new stations have already been placed in the Oil Patch, one of them in Williams County near Epping. The rest are in Dunn, Mountrail and McKenzie Counties. More are planned in the future.

Each station cost about $10,000, and costs $50 per month to operate. Funding came from a 1.5 percent surcharge on revenue that the Load Pass System collects for oversize permits. The surcharge is being used to improve the Load Pass system over time, with such things as automated mapping.

Fifteen more stations will be installed late summer to early fall, bringing the total number of new stations in the west to 25.

WDEA is also seeking a match from the Oil and Gas Research Council to put in 25 more stations. If successful, that would allow WDEA to place weather stations in non-oil producing counties with heavy truck traffic from the oil and gas industry.

“One of the cool things about the sites is that they have cameras that you can rotate to look at roads,” Simon said. “You can look at the roads it’s next to, or look at approaching storm systems, too. The camera can be a valuable tool as well.”

While the initial 10 stations were placed on land controlled by companies in the oil sector, Simon is hoping to find landowners willing to host an NDAWN site as well. Contact him at geoff@ndenergy.org for information about that.

The partnership with NDAWN is just one avenue that WDEA is working through to improve the situation with gravel roads and heavy truck traffic. The association of oil and gas counties also has a partnership with Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute to test different road materials and precipitation environments. The data will be used to develop strategies and best practices for gravel roads.

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