GIS Based Maintenance Database for Assessing Drilling Related Road Damage

Focus Area

Construction and Maintenance Practices


Environmental Process, Natural Resources






1-2 years

Research Idea Scope


The State of North Carolina is seriously considering allowing natural gas exploration and development.  Potential gas resources are of the kind that will be exploited using hydraulic fracturing drilling methods (“fracking”).  Experience from other states (e.g. Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia) shows that once drilling is allowed, exploration companies are ready to begin quickly, creating immediate impacts to the condition of roads and bridges due to a monumental increase in heavy truck traffic.  Many of the roads that will be subject to this increase in truck traffic are rural, historically low volume roads with small, low load bridges.

Gas exploration in North Carolina, if permitted, will begin in either Lee, Moore, or Chatham Counties.  All of these counties are within North Carolina Department of Transportation’s (NCDOT) Division 8.  We propose a research study to develop a GIS based database of roads and bridges in Division 8 most likely to be affected by the increase in heavy truck traffic associated with gas exploration and recovery.  This will provide baseline data from which to gauge the degradation of roads and bridges due to fracking operations and provide a planning tool to determine which bridges will need to be upgraded or avoided by heavy equipment.  This will be accomplished by:

i) Informational interviews with DOT employees from other states where fracking related road damage and maintenance issues have occurred.

ii) Identify the area within Division 8 most likely (geologically) to be exploited for natural gas.

iii) Identify specific bridges that may be critical to the movement of drilling equipment and determine appropriate upgrades or detours.

iv) Identify secondary roads with already elevated traffic volumes that may pose not only maintenance problems but safety issues when heavy truck volumes increase.

v) Collect geo-rectified video (think Google maps – street view data) of the present condition of roads and bridges within the potentially affected area.

vi) Create an interactive GIS based database that shows the baseline road and bridge conditions, identifies critical bridges, and will help determine optimum route planning in terms of maintenance and safety as soon as drilling operations commence.

Urgency and Payoff

NCDOT has yet to consider how maintenance agreements may be structured for the inevitable damage to roads should drilling operations begin.  For any type of agreement, Division 8 will need to conduct on-going damage assessments for State roads and bridges.  Documentation of road conditions before and after drilling activities will provide information about the type and severity of maintenance and will provide the necessary documentation to hold the drilling companies accountable.  Further, drilling companies are often reluctant to divulge future drilling locations and so either a comprehensive baseline maintenance dataset OR a proven quick acquisition method will need to be established so that the Division can keep pace with drilling activity.  The geo-rectified video data and GIS database platform proposed here will satisfy both of these requirements.  Even if drilling does not go ahead in NC, this type of database will help routine maintenance and could apply to other industrial related road damage (e.g. logging).

Suggested By

Colin Mellor, North Carolina Department of Transportation, 919-707-6139

[email protected]