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Todd Dills

Story in NY times tars oil field exemption

| May 18, 2012

I’ve been at work covering the uptick in oil field work surrounding new drilling techniques that have been enabling new oil and gas wells to explode in a number of areas around the country, from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale area, the Eagle Ford in Texas, and the Bakken in North Dakota, Montana and parts of Canada. Judging by the guys working the wells I’ve talked to, it’s largely a positive story relative to pay and work.

Owner-operator Mike Mace, for instance, in addition to rates and profitability beyond anything he ever saw during his 10 years over-the-road, believes he’s relocated the driver-to-driver camaraderie he remembers running with his father as a kid. Serving as both leased owner-operator and de facto dispatcher for 20-plus-truck oufit Reed Trucking, hauling sand in Pennsylvania, “I was about ready to sell my truck before I got into it,” Mace says. He hauls in a 1996 International 9300. “It got to the point where trucking wasn’t fun anymore.”

But this work he loves. “I absolutely love trucking again. It’s like you’re on the same level with the same group of guys” day in, day out, he says. “You have your CB on, you talk to them — the communication is just unbelievable. Everybody works together. You don’t hear folks fighting on the CB. You don’t hear any of that nonsense.”

In the mainstream outside the oil and gas trucking inner circle, news reports have abounded about drinking-water and other environmental problems surrounding areas with a high amount of hydraulic fracturing, and on Tuesday the New York Times took aim at the oil field exemption to some of the hours of service rules, which allows for extended hours for truckers working in oil services industries.

Fracking is a materials-heavy process, one reason truck demand and rates have been so high going into well sites for flatbedders and bulk sand haulers, likewise outbound for tank haulers. The Times leads its story with the tale of 36-year-old hauler Timothy Roth, killed in an accident the Times suggested could be blamed on the oil field exemption, which allows alows oil field haulers to extend their 14-hour on-duty clock when waiting. Times reporter Ian Urbina wrote that more than 300 deaths among drivers working in oil and gas over the last decade are the result of regs that “allow truckers to work longer hours than drivers in most other industries.”

The oil field exemption will not substantively change with FMCSA’s new hours of service regulations (effective next year), except to provide a clearer system for logging on-site waiting time when extending the 14-hour clock. (All waiting time will have to be shown as off-duty.) All the same, it’s probably significant to note the language the regs use to describe who exactly qualifies for the oil field exemption. It notes simply that drivers of vehicles “that are specially constructed to service oil wells” qualify. Haulers dedicated to oil operations (bulk tank haulers delivering sand, for instance, or crude toters) are the only drivers who can use the exemption, not flatbed haulers coming in with the occasional load of pipe.

The National Transportation Safety Board, in 2011 comments on FMCSA’s hours changes, lodged strong opposition to the oilfield exemption, believing it held high potential to “lead to increased risk for the exempted population and the driving public.”

The Times, in addition to their story, put together an interactive set of documents relative to the history of and debate over the oilfield exemption. Take a look at it here.

These interactive graphics, too, explore the safety issues in the industry.

For readers trucking in that industry today: What do you think? Is the exemption still appropriate, given the nature of today’s well servicing? How do you balance the demands of the job with those of rest and safety?

  • David S. McQueen

    I work for an oil/gas well service company as a DOT/Transportation Specialist. The “waiting time” exemption from the 14-hour rule has been in effect for years; the clarification of the rule was effective Feb. 27, 2012. The NYT article was simply another phase of Obama’s War on Big Oil.

  • Todd Dills

    David, thanks for the thoughts. Yes, I believe the NYT story makes note of the exemption having been in effect since the early 1960s. The NTSB has publicly hammering on it since before Obama came to Washington, though, too — and the recent domestic oil/gas explosion is of the time, at least, of his administration (though of course I suppose similar domestic production levels were seen in 07-08 and seem to be driven in large part by the oil price). In any case, maybe it’s just another piece of mainstream media taking it to trucking?

  • Brian Remus

    Im a safety manager. I have drivers working out in the fields of North Dakota. They are not eligible for the extended hours. I know that the NY times loves to rip on the trucking industry as well as oil. I believe the exemptions for the oil fields should be upheld.Those drivers are not counting freight when waiting.. They are resting.

  • Jim Ramus

    San Haulers are not qualified for Oil Field Exemption, besides the 24hr reset. You must be an operator first and a driver second, to get the exemption. DOT is cracking down on the 5th line this year.

  • Todd Dills

    Thanks for all the thoughts here — I know it’s complicated for folks around the country in terms of who can take the exemption, as some intrastate rules apply for drivers who don’t leave their state (TX, particularly). In any case, all this helps.

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