As Shale Boom Drives Trucking Industry, It's Also Creating Waves in Waterway...

by Jana Ritter - Published: 2/04/2013

The good news about shale oil is its positive impact on the trucking industry as well as the overall economy and the fact that natural gas prices are at a ten-year low. However, the recent accidents caused by the use of shipping barges across waterways, is fueling debate over mass transportation methods and the future of shale.


Shale energy “fracking”, the growing practice of deep horizontal drilling to harvest oil and natural gas previously beyond reach, is changing America's energy industry, the trucking industry and overall economy.  While Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Louisiana and North Dakota are already experiencing even more direct economic impacts of the shale boom, a recent survey provides a closer examination of the shale boom benefits on the national level as well. Benesch, an Ohio based transportation law firm, collaborated with National Tank Truck Carriers in Washington, D.C. and the Ohio Trucking Association to develop and distribute the survey to members of each trade association.

“We decided to look at trucking because, as many economists will tell you, it is an important harbinger of economic vitality and change,” says Richard Plewacki, a partner with Benesch's Transportation & Logistics practice. Overall, the survey found shale activity is having a positive impact on the trucking industry, that this increase in opportunities and presumably profits is expected to continue and significant job growth will be a byproduct of the trend. While 97% of national respondents believe the shale boom will have a positive impact on the trucking industry and 95% anticipate growth in their businesses over the next five years (especially tank trucking and bulk trucking), the study also identified the possible obstacles to future growth in the transportation sector.

Nationally, the trucking industry cited recruitment and retention of qualified drivers and mechanics as the greatest barrier to capitalizing on shale opportunities and in Ohio the primary concern is mandatory hours-of-service limitations on truck drivers. But in reality, shale wastewater and the use of waterways as an alternative method for shipping has already become a whole other problem of its own. River shipment is an attractive option for companies if you compare the 10,000-barrel tanker barge capacity to the 150-barrel max of a tanker truck, but the size and weight of these barges makes navigation limited and the danger of these vessels has already been demonstrated. Last week three barges of coal broke free from a tugboat on the Ohio River and on January 26tha barge carrying 80,000 gallons of crude oil struck a bridge on the Mississippi river, spilling some of its cargo into the water.

A proposal to ship fracking wastewater, on the Ohio River has been in the works since last June and while the Texas based company, GreenHunter, recently acquired three massive liquid-storage tanks to be used as transfer stations between fracking sites and disposal wells, environmental groups are strongly opposed. The U.S. Coast Guard, which has final authority over river cargo, says it is investigating and will rule on the matter soon.