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Road safety was recently the hot topic addressed by Converse County Commissioners and Devon Energy Corp. representatives June 5.

With increased big truck traffic in Converse County, Vice-Chairman Jim Willox stressed the need repeatedly for caution on highways and dirt roads.

“We continue to have perceived truck issues. This is mostly production water, production oil, and if you could filter it down to (truck drivers), stress safety and road courtesy as much as you can,” Willox said, speaking with Devon Energy Corporation Field Linemen Preston Farnesworth and Derek Smith and Regulatory Compliance Professional Rebecca Byram.

“The sheriff gets complaints all the time regarding trucks traveling too fast,” Willox said.

Traffic accidents on Converse County roads have increased substantially in the last few years due to a higher volume of traffic, County Sheriff Clint Becker said June 11.

“We have semis that turn over quite frequently, but it’s not just big trucks. It’s all types of vehicles. The weather plays into it – it’s a combination of the weather and heavier traffic, trucks moving oil and fracking water,” Becker said.

In the past 12 months (June 10, 2018 to June 10, 2019), the Sheriff’s Office has responded to 81 crashes on Converse County roads, a 25% increase over June 2016-2018, when the average was 60 crashes per year within that time frame, Undersheriff Nathan Hughes said.

“I’d like to suggest that when the roads are in very bad condition due to the weather, that (drivers) take a proactive decision toward shutting down or reducing down to a minimal speed. It may not even be worth it to go,” Becker said.

Smith said Devon’s safety staff perform “on-boarding” with every trucking company they work with to assure safety procedures are followed.

“We know our safety guys stress safety, especially on highway 59 and the county roads, being safe and following the speed limits,” Smith said.

There’s numerous oil companies operating in the county, with more and more subcontracted trucking companies working in Converse County.

The danger is real, though. Passing oncoming big trucks with heavy loads on narrow dirt roads can be scary to even the most experienced drivers, officials stressed. There are instances when big trucks ride on or over center lines, forcing vehicles in the opposite lane to ride onto the shoulder to avoid collisions.

Yet, at other times, some truck drivers do slow down, keeping to their sides of the road and waving friendly greetings to the drivers of oncoming cars.

While road courtesy seems to vary from driver to driver and company to company, road safety is a concern for all involved, they agreed.

“In this Converse County asset we operate, guess it’s almost 80 percent of our infrastructure has oil, gas, freshwater, saltwater, all in pipe. We try to do a pretty good job of keeping everything underground and reducing traffic,” Farnsworth told the commissioners.

According to Farnsworth, Devon Energy currently has four rigs running in Converse County, from Snow Fence Road two miles north of the rest area to between Walker Creek Road.

“Right now a lot of our activity isn’t on county roads. It’s on Snow Fence Road and what we refer to as the Tillard. So (there’s) very little damage done to your area. We do have some that are going to be off the Highland Loop Road beginning in mid-June.”

“We’ll be moving one rig, a couple wells, back in there. I haven’t been down that road for a bit, so I’m not exactly sure what shape it’s in. Then in late July, we have a couple wells down the Walker Creek Road,” Farnesworth said

Most of the wells are more than one-well pads. Instead, many are multiple wells operating on a single pad, which reduced costs as well as traffic and the need for new roads.

“We still have a couple scattered throughout there (one-well pads). We try to plan most things. We don’t have six or eight well pads, but we maybe have four,” he said.

Farnesworth said Devon Energy is still in the exploratory stages of development with their oil objectives.

Devon’s Rocky Mountain operations are focused on its oil opportunities in the Powder River Basin and the Wind River Basin. In the Powder River, the company is targeting several Cretaceous oil objectives, including the Turner, Parkman, Teapot and Niobrara formations, according to their website.

Farnsworth explained to the commissioners that he believes it takes years to get out of an exploratory stage, “to understand exactly what you have. I think it is something that will evolve.”

The commissioners, county and community are working together on a new socioeconomic program, Willox said, with the goal of providing a stable environment for the county’s workforce. The commissioners said they will have better information to provide for housing, education, restaurants and government needs for roads with the information they aim to gather.

“The goal is to get your six-month to three-year projections,” Willox explained to Devon’s reps, “then aggregate that data, along with publicly available data, (and) create a report that can go everywhere from the county to the school district, to private individuals and say, ‘Look at the plan for oil and gas in this county, we need to put a man camp in. Look at the oil and gas, I can build apartments or open a restaurant, or we need to invest in more roads or sheriff’s (deputies).”

With the input of the energy companies operating here, the more data will make the economic model be more accurate for predicting the future.

“The more data we have, the better job we can do. If we can provide a better environment for the workforce, you have a better chance of doing your job in a reasonable way,” Willox said.

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