CAMERON - Fleets of oversized trucks rumbling through this small Marshall County community at high speeds is the main concern residents are voicing with the Marcellus Shale natural gas boom that is now in its third year of development.
Nestled in the southeastern corner of Marshall County with 948 residents, Cameron lies at the heart of the shale gas play.
Mayor Mark Frazier said this gives the community a great chance to grow its economy, but also leads to concerns about heavy truck traffic and road damage. "We mostly have small, narrow streets here. Our schools are located right along" U.S. 250, Frazier said. "And if something happens that 250 gets blocked, there are not many alternatives."
In fact, an oversized truck got stuck on U.S. 250 just north of Cameron on Thursday, temporarily blocking both lanes of traffic. Those traveling to the opening of a new cellular tower in Cameron were forced to detour onto a bumpy, narrow, winding road to circumvent the accident.
Many town residents and business owners agree that Marcellus traffic concerns top the list.
"I do have a lot of workers come in to eat at my restaurant, so they do help my business. I just wish they would slow their trucks down a little," said Terri Galentine, co-owner of the Bridgestreet Restaurant in Cameron. "There are lots of complaints about our roads being torn up, and some of these drivers have no respect for our residents."
Galentine's comments mirror those Marshall County Sheriff John Gruzinskas made during a U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing Wednesday. Comparing the Marshall County natural gas rush to "an invasion," the sheriff testified to the committee, "The drivers are not from here, so they do not care what happens as a result of their reckless operation. Our roads are destroyed by these overloaded vehicles."
During the approximately 17-mile on U.S. 250 south from Moundsville to Cameron, no fewer than 21 drilling-related trucks passed by heading north. These trucks included some so-called "sand cans," which transport fracking sand to the gas well sites; frack water trucks; pickup trucks with Texas license plates; trucks carrying drilling equipment to the sites; and the lead "escort" vehicles that guide the oversized trucks down the road.
"Our police department has pulled over some of these escort drivers to find that a few of them do not have a valid driver's licence," Frazier said. "We would just like people to follow the law. Some people may think we are just a little 'peanut' of a town, but we love this little town."
Frazier emphasized that not all drilling companies have been disrespectful to his community, as companies such as Chesapeake Energy, Consol Energy, Noble Energy and Chevron Corp. have been proactive in reaching out to Cameron and its residents.
"These companies have been very generous to us," he said in noting the producers have agreed to sponsor certain community events in the city. "Chevron came in and shut down two wells that were going, just outside our city limits. They want to make sure these wells are going to live up to their specification standards before operating them."
California-based Chevron, one of the largest oil companies in the world, recently acquired these wells and other local Marcellus assets from Ohio-based AB Resources.
Cameron Drug employees Stacey Murphy and Matthew Wine also believe in the economic growth opportunities the Marcellus rush presents. They both said they just want to see the drillers make more of an attempt to positively impact the community.
"They just don't abide by the speed limits," said Murphy, a pharmacy technician. "And sometimes, you will have several large trucks all at once."
"We just want to see some investment in the local area," Wine, a pharmacist, added. "I want some of these people to relocate here instead of just working here. And they should ship their larger loads during times when we don't have as many people on the road.
"I basically would just like them to make more of a long-term commitment to the area."
Like Gruzinskas, Frazier believes many of the problems lie with the subcontractors that the major energy companies hire to perform work for them. These services can include drilling, fracking, transporting and other items.
"They may be subcontractors, but the larger companies are paying the subcontractors. These companies should have someone who oversees their subcontractors," he said.
"We support the drilling for the most part," Frazier added. "We would even love to see someone locate some sort of an office or a station here."
Galentine also believes the drilling will ultimately prove beneficial for Cameron and its neighboring areas, noting, "I just want them to pay for their damage and give back to the community."
"Maybe they could pay for a new playground for our kids to use, or something nice like that," she added.
Chesapeake Vice President of Corporate Development and State Government Relations Scott Rotruck told the U.S. Senate committee last week that his company spent $61 million repairing roads throughout West Virginia's Northern Panhandle in 2011, with plans to spend $93 million on such projects in 2012. Consol officials have also paid for some paving projects throughout the area.
Still, the roadways entering Cameron show obvious signs of fatigue, a fact that Frazier hopes is temporary.
"Our goal is to get the most benefit for our local people. We have high hopes," he said.