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Oil Boom's Byproduct: Broken Windshields

A surge in truck traffic related to the drilling boom in parts of Texas has resulted in a smaller boom in the windshield replacement industry.

Eddie Posselt (right) works on a 18 Wheeler tanker truck's windshield with his employee Danilo Estaco (inside truck) on Dec. 12, 2013. Posselt moved to Carrizo Springs last year to work in the oil fields, ended up launching Windshields Etc in July. He now runs the business full time.  The oil drilling boom in South Texas' Eagle Ford Shale has also led to a boom in windshield repair and replacement.

Like many others, Eddie Posselt was drawn to South Texas last year by job opportunities in the oil fields. Initially, the El Paso native found work in Carrizo Springs as a well tester. But six months later, a different opportunity presented itself.

“I walked the lots here and noticed that there are many broken windshields in the area,” Posselt said. “I saw a great opportunity to go into business replacing them.”

In July, Posselt opened Windshields Etc, an auto glass repair service, as a side business, but it quickly flourished and became a full-time gig. As with his previous job, he has the Texas oil boom to thank for his new line of work.

Bringing a new gas or oil well into production typically requires more than 1,000 loaded trucks traveling to and from a well site. Across portions of South and West Texas, where hundreds of new wells have been drilled, the surge in truck traffic has torn up rural roads and created safety challenges, including the increasingly common occurrence of large trucks sending rocks or debris flying at the vehicles behind them. 

For some frustrated local residents and transit providers, windshield replacement has emerged as a hidden cost of the drilling boom.

"We’ve replaced more windshields in one year than we have in 10," said Sarah Hidalgo-Cook, manager of the Southwest Area Regional Transit District, which oversees public transportation for eight rural counties in South Texas.

Aside from the expense of replacing windshields, the problem can endanger drivers.

This month a jury awarded $281 million to the family of a South Texas man who was killed in 2012 when a drive shaft fell off a tractor-trailer truck that belonged to Heckmann Water Resources, an oil patch supplier, and flew through the windshield of the victim’s pickup truck. The award included $100 million in punitive damages related to allegations that the company had not properly maintained its truck.

In a statement, Nuverra Environmental Solutions, which owns Heckmann Water Resources, vowed to appeal.

The firms drilling in the state’s shale fields emphasize the importance of safety to oil field truck drivers, according to Deb Hastings, a spokeswoman for the Texas Oil & Gas Association. Some firms use GPS technology to track their drivers and ensure that none are speeding or driving in an unsafe manner.

“We definitely will also continue to encourage drivers of passenger vehicles to continue keeping a safe distance from the oil field trucks and pass with care,” Hastings said.

Earlier this year, the Brazos Transit District, a public transportation provider covering portions of East and Central Texas, was buying windshields by the dozen because of a spike in incidents, according to John McBeth, the district's president.

The damage occurred most often when one of McBeth’s drivers was behind a truck that had just exited an oil field site. The truck would often have debris stuck to its exterior, and that debris would fly behind it as the vehicle  picked up speed.

McBeth said his drivers were recently instructed to change lanes and stay farther back when behind oil field trucks. That has helped reduce the number of incidents, as has a recent drop in oil field trucks traveling around Brazos County, he said.

“We’ve not lost a windshield in about four months,” McBeth said. “Before that, we were losing a windshield about every other week.”

While drilling activity is regularly shifting, it is expected to continue in parts of South and West Texas for years. And as long as it does, entrepreneurs like Posselt are likely to see thriving business.

"The force and also the size of the rocks in this area, they’re pretty big,” Posselt said. “Most of the time, the damage is not repairable.”

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