Maintaining the chilled way: tending to ice road infrastructure protects capital investments and the tundra.

Author:Griffin, Judy
Position:OIL & GAS

In ice road infrastructure, there is no low-maintenance option. But be assured there is rest for the weary maintenance operator. Accommodations can be found far from drilling pads and camps; they are a safety necessity for long hauls.

Crews of Cruz Construction, Inc. who ply ice roads to haul loads or operate maintenance equipment can find a bed in the self-heated sleeper units added to vehicles and in stationary shelters placed at intervals. "Having a sleeper is critical for front-line construction," says Craig Thompson, general manager of oil field operations for Cruz Construction and a logistics specialist. "We've used them for equipment failures and during Phase II or Phase III blows." He explains that Phase II conditions are identified by the ability to see ahead to only one road delineator, and when a whiteout with near-zero visibility occurs, Phase III prevails.

From Milepost 359 on the Dakon Highway, Cruz Construction built a road to haul drilling equipment for an independent exploration company to Umiat near the Colville River in the foothills of the Brooks Range. The road was used from November 1, 2012, to May 10, 2013. "On that 101-mile snow trail, crews performed 375 transits with loads for a total of 37,000 miles in one drill season," says Thompson. Shelters were spaced about 25 miles apart to permit operators who might work on a transit for as long as twenty-one hours to rest, in addition to being available for emergency conditions.

Remote sites such as Umiat, for which the access road is extremely long, are often served by a type of ice road called a snow trail. Constructed by compacting snow without the substantial addition of water from lakes required to form the more load-worthy ice roads, these routes offer less cushioning of the tundra from traffic.

Wheeled vehicles can travel on ice roads, but only low-ground-pressure vehicles designed to reduce the contact pressure, such as those with tracks or large flotation tires, can travel on snow trails. At the end of every snow trail or ice road, an ice pad with a frozen surface at least six inches deep must be established to accommodate the displaced weight of parked vehicles and load handling.

"If exploration is in a highly remote area for which the distance from the maintained road is long, it's more economical to use a snow trail," says Thompson. One reason costs are lower for a snow trail is that permitting for use of lake water to haul for road-building is greatly reduced...

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