A federal grant has been awarded to study the effects of the increased use of hydraulic fracturing on freight transportation distribution patterns.

The money from the U.S. Department of Transportation Research and Innovative Technology Administration will fund a collaborative effort between Southern Miss, Vanderbilt University and the University of Alabama at Huntsville as part of a National Center for Freight and Infrastructure Research and Education university transportation center consortium research program.

The amount of the federal grant was not indicated in the announcement.

The ultimate goal of this project is to provide guidance for freight transportation planners and policy makers in determining where to concentrate their attention to mitigate safety and economic risks.

The Southern Miss team will focus on the emerging Tuscaloosa Marine Shale region, which stretches across Southwest Mississippi into Louisiana.

“The oil and gas boom in North Dakota and other shale plays across the United States has put a tremendous strain on local roads,” said Chad Miller, associate professor and graduate coordinator of the Masters of Science in Economic Development Program at the University of Southern Mississippi. “If we can predict the impact on transportation in Southwest Mississippi of the impending oil and natural gas boom there, we will be able to better plan for the future.”

Studies show that the increasing production of domestic energy through the use of fracking is altering local economies and corresponding freight distribution patterns in different modes such as highway, rail, marine, pipeline, according to Southern Miss.

The project will assess the impact of fracking on freight transportation demand and corresponding distribution patterns, for the purpose of identifying where excess capacity has been created due to shifts in freight distribution patterns.

“Fracking in Mississippi will present great opportunities and challenges particularly on the transportation arena,” said Tulio Sulbaran, director, the Center for Logistics, Trade and Transportation at Southern Miss. “Fracking activities mainly relies on trucks which travel through our roads providing job opportunities as well as additional demands on our roads.”