By Ed Runyan
Ohio now has the toughest gas-well regulations in the country, Gov. John Kasich said at a forum on the region’s emerging shale-gas industry Thursday.
The state also is working hard to prepare Ohioans to capture industry jobs, he said.
Another state official addressed the 4.0-magnitude earthquake that hit Youngstown on Dec. 31, trying to convince the 100 or more people attending the five-hour Yankee Lake Ballroom event that the quake was isolated and well handled — even if it was a possible side effect of the shale industry.
Three representatives from the biggest corporate players in the industry discussed extra steps they take to protect drinking water, to hire local workers and to force trucking subcontractors to abide by agreed-upon travel routes.
CARROLL COUNTY GROWTH
But perhaps the most easily understood messages came from Amy Rutledge, director of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, and Chris Jaskiewicz, vice president of local drilling-related company VEC Inc. of Girard, formerly Valley Electrical Consolidated.
Carroll County has the most Utica shale gas-producing wells in Ohio, but the 30,000-population county has been in the Utica drilling business for only about 18 months. The arrival of the companies, their numerous workers, their heavy equipment, their work ethic and their money has had a dramatic — and possibly long-lasting — effect on the sleepy community just west of East Liverpool.
The county has just one hotel with 49 rooms, so plans are progressing to reopen the Atwood Lodge so that tourists can once again find a place to stay in Carroll County, Rutledge said.
The arrival of truck traffic and other heavy equipment has required county officials to establish backup plans so that emergency crews can still get to fires and other emergencies in the event that equipment blocks their path.
Watching drilling rigs move through the community has been “fascinating,” she said.
Meanwhile, the transformation of many dirt roads into paved roads has been interesting in that sometimes the pavement abruptly ends because the companies only need the road in certain areas near their drilling pads.
The deli in Carrollton went from three employees to five after the workers showed up, which is typical of all of the eateries in town, she said.
Many Carroll County residents have left their former jobs to work in the gas industry because it pays better, especially those with welding experience or a commercial driver’s license. Some who have left their former jobs to work 12-hour days, seven days a week have had to learn that drilling companies need people “willing to work,” she said
Carrollton rarely had to worry about providing people with viable opportunities to give away their money, Rutledge said, but it’s important now because so many more people have money they are willing to give.
When officials with the huge drilling company Chesapeake say they test drinking wells in advance of drilling, it’s true. “They tested my well,” she said.
ADVICE TO THE VALLEY
Rutledge said her advice to the residents and officials of the Mahoning Valley who will be affected by drilling operations is to “be welcoming, listen to what they need,” understand that they have “more money than time,” so work quickly, but refrain from “gouging” them because they will remember how they were treated.
The people in Carrollton are a little concerned that they are on the verge of losing their small town.
“We’re a little concerned that we’re moving too quickly,” she said.
Jaskiewicz said his company has doubled its revenue since it got into the gas business in 2009. The company has hired 125 workers in the Mahoning Valley in the past five months, most of them pipe fitters, and will hire another 125 by the end of the year.
It wasn’t simple for VEC to earn the respect of the gas companies at first. It took time and persistence because companies such as Chesapeake need to know that its subcontractors have the training to meet their needs, Jaskiewicz said.
VEC had one employee who simply went to eastern Pennsylvania to immerse himself in the drilling industry there to understand how it worked.
But once that connection was made, it became clear that the big gas companies aren’t that hard to understand. “They’re good people like you and I,” he said.
Representatives from Chesapeake and BP said they have purchased most of the mineral rights they need to conduct their drilling operations in the Mahoning Valley.
NO SLAM-DUNK FOR OHIO
Chesapeake representative Matt Hammond, whose company paid $2 billion for mineral rights on 1.1 million Ohio acres, said it’s not clear whether his company will find large oil and gas deposits in this area. “Here in Ohio, the play is extremely young. In no way is this a slam dunk right now, but we’re cautiously optimistic,” he said.
Hammond said there’s a chance the industry could be extracting oil and gas from eastern Ohio into the years 2020 or 2030. Late this year or early next year, the company should have a better idea, he said.
Matt Carmichael with Anadarko Petroleum said his company feels strongly enough about keeping truck traffic on the appointed routes that it uses global-positioning devices to track it. Local haulers may know shortcuts, but if they use them instead of the authorized routes, “they don’t work for us,” he said.
KASICH ON ENVIRONMENT
Kasich said there’s no way to guarantee that drillers won’t cause environmental damage. However, “Now, if we have a problem, which we’re bound to have, we can say we’ve done everything humanly possible” to prevent it, he said.
Kasich said he’s hopeful that eastern Ohio, which has not experienced the economic health of other parts of the state, will finally catch a break through the gas and oil business.
“But we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves,” he said. “We need to remain calm. The people here have had their hopes dashed decade after decade.”
State Rep. Sean O’Brien of Brookfield, D-65th and the Regional Chamber of Commerce were among the chief organizers of the event, which O’Brien said was mainly aimed at educating local leaders about what to expect from the shale industry. SClB