The Marcellus gas rush has had a reviving effect on many local industries, but probably none have benefited as much as the trucking business in Pennsylvania.
The process of installing a gas pad and fracking a well require thousands upon thousands of truck trips, hauling equipment and water to remote sites largely inaccessible by any other means of transportation. Over my years covering the issue, I've spoken with dozens of owners of local trucking companies who have said their business has doubled or tripled since the gas companies arrived in the commonwealth.
Their success, however, has been blunted by the arrival of fly-by-night trucking companies, largely run by out-of-state owners looking to make a quick buck on the Marcellus boom, according to local truckers I spoke to at the Marcellus Transportation Safety Day in State College on Sept. 22.
"Right now, not everyone is on the same playing field of compliance," said Dean Riland, the safety director for the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association. "Too many people are trying to circumvent the law, and that hurts reputable companies, who are spending money to ensure their vehicles are safe and compliant."
Riland blamed out-of-state companies for the 56 percent noncompliance rate in 2010 for commercial motor vehicles used in support of Marcellus Shale gas drilling operations. While that rate has dropped to 45 percent so far in 2011, Riland said it's still too high to think more shouldn't be done about the issue.
"A lot of the hauling companies have come around, but we still have a lot of companies that haven't," Riland said. "Tougher enforcement has helped, but there needs to be even more, because its not fair to the local companies who are doing it right, and its not fair to Pennsylvanians who are less safe driving on our roadways."
What these companies have not spent on safety, they've spent on recruiting employees. William Buckley, the owner of Milton Transportation in Milton, Pennsylvania, said he's lost 10 of his 100 drivers to higher-paying trucking jobs in the past year.
"Our feeling is we should do anything we can to get our safety up. The companies my drivers are going to are paying more, but they don't have the same very high standard (for themselves). But they can underbid us on contracts, and they're taking business away from responsible companies," Buckley said.
William said he's confident as gas companies settle into the play, they'll begin to take a closer look at who the bad actors are and avoid doing business with them.
"As this grows, those companies who maintain a good reputation are the ones that should be rewarded, not the ones that actively are trying to circumvent the law," he said.