Oct. 08–Permian Basin roads were already supporting tons of trucks ferrying even more tons of oilfield equipment, supplies and personnel. Add in more tankers carrying crude oil and water as operators struggle to cope with pipeline bottlenecks and the result is wear and tear on West Texas infrastructure that is rapidly becoming an economic concern.
“There’s been such a huge increase in activity with the interest in the shales and more demand for oilfield services,” Ronnie Witherspoon, president and chief executive officer of Aveda Transportation, said in a phone interview.
“Today’s infrastructure is not conducive to that activity,” he said. “There are millions and millions of pounds of oil, water, sand and iron, everything under the sun.”
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The stress on the region’s roads has companies such as Aveda, which is primarily a rig transport company, scrambling to adapt.
Tom Halliday, Aveda’s vice president, operations for the U.S., said the company seeks to schedule the times their loads are moved to less-congested periods. He also said that with trucks increasingly hauling bigger, heavier equipment, those loads are routed around congested areas.
“It costs us time. Scheduling off-peak hours challenges us,” Halliday said.
And some of the new routes are gravel roads, he said.
“What should be a short 20- or 30-mile move is now a 120-mile move.,” Witherspoon said. “That costs time and is more expensive.”
Halliday said those expenses often have to be passed onto the customer. He said the company gets some pushback over the increased expenses, but many customers are understanding of the challenges Aveda faces.
“As a company, we’ve brought in additional crew vans to minimize the number of trucks on the road. We bus employees and we’ve centralized them in two camps, in Midland and in Pecos,” Witherspoon said.
Aveda has also increased the number of owner-operator truck drivers it uses in order to reduce its dependence on third-party drivers, he said. That will help establish what he described as a homogenous set of standards. Aveda also has an extensive training program that all drivers attend.
The company was just acquired by Daseke Inc., North America’s largest flatbed, specialized transportation and logistics solutions company.
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Witherspoon said that has allowed Aveda to significantly increase its benefits, which he expects will positively impact the company’s retention and recruitment efforts as well as employee safety.
The situation has become so dire some roads have become known as “death highway.” Witherspoon said that designation currently goes to Highway 285 between Pecos and Carlsbad, New Mexico. A few years ago, said Halliday, that designation could have been given to Highway 302 between Midland and Mentone, which “was as bad if not worse.”
The good news is that there are “much-needed plans in place to address the challenges,” even though the construction period will temporarily cause more delays, Witherspoon said.
“As a company, we’re pleased to see the issue being taken seriously. As the Department of Transportation explains its plans for the future, that’s encouraging. But it seems a long way away. It can’t get here soon enough,” said Witherspoon.
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