The completion of the overhead-crane project at the Wellsville Intermodal Facility provides another way for Columbiana County to support the growing oil and gas business, a county development official said.
The Columbiana County Port Authority received $5.7 million from the Federal Maritime Commission to complete the crane, said Tracy Drake, the authority’s chief executive officer.
“The crane can unload items from rail to truck to boat and vice versa,” he said. “It can move cargo between multiple modes of transportation.”
The port authority still wants to place a conveyor at the site to further aid in the distribution of large material loads, Drake said.
Oil and gas companies will be able to use the crane to unload materials for pipeline construction, he said.
“Business has already started to pick up since the project was completed,” Drake said.
When asked about specific oil and gas companies interested in using the crane, Drake said Harvest Pipeline, a subsidiary of Hilcorp Energy, recently has leased land at the Wellsville Intermodal Facility and stated once the conveyor is completed, the crane and conveyor will meet the company’s needs at the terminal.
Drake said the expectation is that more traffic will be coming to the area by barge, rail and truck because of shale-related industries. There are nine of these port areas nearby, with seven of them privately owned, he added.
“They’re like car dealerships. They want to be near each other to increase traffic,” Drake said.
Tim Weigle, a port authority board member and a Unity Township trustee, said he thinks the crane has the potential to impact economic development within the oil and gas industry beyond just pipeline materials.
At this point, the crane needs to be better marketed. The key is to find out who can use it, then get out and sell the service, Weigle said.
“[Wellsville] is located centrally in the middle of the state’s busiest areas for oil and gas development,” he said.
“The original thought was to have the crane ready by the time they widen the Panama Canal, which is supposed to be completed in 2014,” Drake said. “Our idea was that these larger ships that now offload on the Pacific Coast would be able to get through the canal, and some of them would end up on the inland rivers.”
The Wellsville facility is at the end of the routes from New Orleans and Mobile, Ala., on those inland rivers, he said.
The crane could help the Wellsville area lure a rumored jet-fuel production facility to the area, said Randy Allmon, president of the Wellsville Area Chamber of Commerce.
The $4 billion to $8 billion proposed site would convert coal or natural gas into jet fuel, he said.
Any type of economic development would be “a big shot in the arm” to the Wellsville area and the entire county, Allmon added.