Shale fracking industry just getting started in county

LISBON – Some local and state officials updated residents on where the shale fracking natural gas industry currently stands in our county during an informational meeting held at the Crestview Performing Arts Center this past week.

“We’re just really getting started with this in Columbiana County,” said County Commissioner Timothy Weigle, when asked. “We’ve talked to our friends in Carroll County (which has more than 10 times the number of wells producing gas as there are here). They are a couple million ahead in tax revenue.”

Here, commissioners are only seeing a slight tax increase at this point, but it is believed the industry will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.

According to statistics Weigle presented, there have been 86 well permits issued in this county since 2010 and 74 wells have been drilled. Eight of the wells are currently producing, and two wells have been plugged. There are also 90 Road Use Maintenance Agreements (RUMA) here in the county, which have meant $20 million in infrastructure upgrades mostly to local roads.

Additionally, the Momentum Cryogenics plant is in phase one in Kensington, while gathering lines are being built to transport the gas to the cryogenics plant. Another similar plant, the NiSource Hilcorp plant is being planned in Springfield Township, just to the north of this county.

Weigle, who spends a lot of time flying, showed aerial photos of some of the drill pads, gas lines, water impoundment ponds and processing plants from Columbiana, Mahoning and Harrison counties.

Jason Wilson, the director of the governor’s office of Appalachia, noted Ohio is no longer only seeing growth in the three C’s (Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati), but now in towns like Columbiana, Cambridge, Coshocton and Cadiz. Wilson credits the movement to open up Ohio for business for the shale industry, while still making regulations tougher than in other states to make certain it is done safely and without harm to the environment.

Tim Ross, the governor’s office Eastern Ohio regional liaison, said Ohio has learned from Pennsylvania’s regulatory issues. Legislation has been passed here to make certain there is mandatory disclosure of what chemicals are being used in the drilling and fracturing process, long-term maintenance issues and the disclosure of water sources. Ohio’s regulators are well trained, according to Ross, and able to enforce the regulations.

Drilling in the area, which has been going on for 150 years, has expanded a lot in the last three years, since horizontal drilling came on the scene. One horizontal well is capable of producing 448 times the natural gas that a conventional well produces, according to Ross’ statistics.

Wilson said one of the biggest success stories in the area, the Yountz Well in Monroe County, is currently producing $300,000 worth of oil and gas per day.

The industry has been positively affecting land owners, businessmen, local trucking firms, equipment rental businesses, hotels and restaurants, according to Wilson.

“There are people here who have invested their life savings in this industry,” Wilson said, “and toward producing jobs right here in Columbiana and the surrounding area.”

Barry Miner, a Fairfield Township trustee and a road supervisor for Consol Energy said he would like to see development along state Route 344, noting the only thing holding it back is a lack of utilities. With the expansion of utilities to the area between Columbiana and Leetonia, he sees the future building of hotels and restaurants.

In his position with Consol Energy, Miner said he is responsible for making certain the roads are up to carrying the traffic that will be crossing them. When a well site is created and becomes operational for instance, Miner said it takes an average of 2,375 trucks to create the pad, drill the site, perform the hydraulic fracturing and build the pipeline to move the product away from the site.

However, as a trustee, Miner said he has learned the importance of building good relationships with the energy companies. He was able to convince one company to help the township pay for a culvert replacement on a road they would be using. The township paid half of the cost, yet it was a culvert the township would have been needing to replace soon even without the gas drilling work going on in the area.

Miner also noted despite the criticism Jobs Ohio has received from political opponents during recent months, he believes the program is working here. It has helped people secure 125,000 jobs in the gas and oil industry.

“We have not seen the likes of this type of growth in East Central Ohio in a long time,” Miner said.

The event was sponsored by the Columbiana Area Chamber of Commerce.