Truck drivers hauling water and sand to U.S. oil and natural gas shale wells can’t extend their daily on-duty hours by using an exemption targeted for special oil-field service equipment, the govenment said.
Time spent waiting while water and sand are unloaded at well sites counts toward the maximum 14 hours a day that a truck driver can work, the Transportation Department said in a rule clarification to be published today in the Federal Register. Some drivers may be using an exemption for equipment such as pumps or gas separators that let operators subtract from the limit the time waiting for gear to be unloaded, said Boyd Stephenson, director of hazardous materials policy at the Arlington, Virginia-based American Trucking Associations.
The U.S. agency is targeting a boom in natural-gas drilling by hydraulic fracturing, a process that may require hauling as many as 1,000 truckloads of water and sand for every well. Limiting the exemption may force drillers to add drivers, Stephenson said.
“If you were an operator in the past that was utilizing this exemption for transporting sand and water then, yes, it means you’re going to have to have more drivers,” Stephenson said in an interview. “There were probably some that were utilizing this exemption for sand and water trucks in the past. How many is anybody’s guess.”
A growing number of industries, from ready-mix concrete mixers to water-well drillers to agricultural retailers, have obtained or sought relief from rules including limits on truckers’ daily on-duty hours that the Department of Transportation announced in December. Consumer groups and the trucking association object to different parts of the rules and have gone to court to block them.
Hours-of-service exemptions were written into law for more than a dozen industries, including oil-field service equipment, before the final rule was issued.
Oil and gas discoveries in shale formations in states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio are bringing wells to rural areas that can often be reached using small rural roads not suited for heavy trucks. The anticipated expansion of drilling probably led the safety agency to issue guidance on who is eligible for the exemption, according to Henry Jasny, vice president of the Washington-based Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.
Justin Nisly, a Transportation Department spokesman, didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.
“If you’re going to have thousands and thousands more sites, you’re going to have thousands more vehicle trips on rural roads which have the highest fatality rate to begin with,” Jasny said in an interview. “They’re not changing anything in the current exemption. They’re just trying to make it clear who gets which exemption.”