By DAVID SKOLNICK
U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan, a Democrat, and Bill Johnson, a Republican, don’t agree on a lot of issues, but both are supportive of BP’s natural-gas exploration operations in the Mahoning Valley.
The two congressmen met Friday with BP officials at the gas giant’s Ohio headquarters on Mahoning Avenue in North Jackson to talk about the company’s plans and tour the facility.
The company plans to start drilling its first wet natural-gas test well in Trumbull County in April.
It’s very early in the process, said Tim Harrington, regional president of BP North America Gas, who was among company officials who met privately with Ryan and Johnson.
“We’re kind of on the second hole on an 18-hole golf course,” Harrington said.
BP will spend two years evaluating whether this area is ideal for shale drilling, he said.
Ryan, of Niles, D-13th, said natural-gas drilling provides a great opportunity for the Mahoning Valley.
Johnson, of Marietta, R-6th, agreed, saying the area hasn’t seen the potential for such economic prosperity “since the steel mills came here years and years ago.”
The two are among 109 members of Congress to sign a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu urging him to approve natural-gas export permits to countries that don’t have free-trade agreements with the United States.
“We can either import oil or export gas,” Ryan said.
Johnson added: “America has an opportunity here to be the lead in natural-gas exports. You’ve got other countries in other regions of the world that are already doing this.”
Drilling would provide opportunities to grow the area’s economy, create jobs and help make the country energy-independent, Johnson and Ryan said.
“Let’s export it and create jobs here,” Ryan said.
BP is leasing oil and gas rights in eight Ohio counties, including Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana. The company’s first local purchase was 84,000 acres in Trumbull County for $330 million with a group of property owners.