A decade ago, rising oil prices and advanced production techniques began to drive a rapid increase in drilling activity in Texas. That resulted in many rural roadways in energy-rich regions sustaining considerable damage due to heavy truck traffic, running up hefty maintenance expenses and compromising safety.
As quickly as they could, state leaders and voters funneled more funding into infrastructure repairs. Even so, that additional money falls short of identified repair needs. And despite a recent downturn in oil and gas prices, energy development will almost surely remain a key driver for economic activity in Texas. Any resurgence in prices, moreover, will mean even greater demand – and maintenance needs – for the roadway system.
One way to address the added strain on roadways is to move more of the oil and gas related freight via rail and pipelines (equipment and materials used in drilling and production, as well as extracted oil and gas products). We’re studying that idea right now, in fact, trying to help answer a number of questions that can help policy makers in Texas make important decisions about an industry that means so much to our state. Some of those are:
- What kinds of oil and gas freight can be moved by alternate modes?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of each mode – highway, rail, and pipeline?
- How is the private sector responding to oil and gas production activity by investing in rail and pipeline projects?
- What obstacles, financial or otherwise, stand in the way of moving more oil and gas materials by rail or pipeline?
- What options might the state have to offer incentives for private sector investment in rail and pipeline capacity expansion? And what are the implications for such incentives?
Texas’ global dominance in drilling activity clearly underscores the industry’s importance to the state in numerous ways, from job creation to billions of dollars in production taxes for the state’s Rainy Day Fund. All that, coupled with the state’s reliance on safe and efficient transportation, make this a good time to explore these policy issues now, while energy prices are lower and the industry is catching its breath. Before too long, if Texas is fortunate, things will be running at full steam yet again.
Ginger Goodin is the Director of TTI’s Transportation Policy Research Center.
Allan Rutter heads TTI’s Freight Mobility Division.