Study: officials view fracking positively
By Tom McParland
A recent survey conducted in 17 Ohio counties showed that local elected officials generally see shale activity as a positive economic force, despite its impact on local infrastructure.
The area under consideration stretched as far south as Washington County and as far west as Holmes, Coshocton and Muskingum counties.
The survey also looked at Trumbull and Mahoning counties in the northern tier of the Utica Shale play, where Halcon Resources Corp. recently announced that it would not bring any more rigs into the area, pending results from two wells there.
Drilling activity has developed at a slower pace in the north, where wells have produced less-lucrative results than those in the play’s hot spot to the south.
Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs last month released the findings of its Ohio Shale Development Community Impact Survey, which was distributed last summer to officials in the eastern Ohio counties experiencing most of the state’s shale activity.
Of the 191 eligible respondents, 66 were mayors or city managers, 16 were county commissioners and 109 were township trustees.
“They are experts in their local jurisdictions,” said Scott Miller, director of energy and environmental programs at the Voinovich School.
Sixty-one percent of the officials surveyed described the impact of shale development as generally positive in their community. A quarter said its impact was neutral, and about 8 percent said the activity had a negative impact on the local community.
Respondents indicated that tax revenues have increased since horizontal drilling started, though mostly at the county level.
Nearly 88 percent of county commissioners said local tax revenue had risen as a result of shale activity, while only 43 percent of city-level officials and 22 percent of township trustees saw an improvement in tax revenue.
Officials indicated that restaurant and retail activity were up dramatically in counties experiencing shale development from a range of activities, including fracking, injection-well construction, pipeline buildout, staging areas and refinery development.
The vast majority of officials seeing development associated with those categories reported increases in workforce migration.
Meanwhile, almost 58 percent of all respondents indicated that local employment had increased because of shale development.
Shawn Bennett, field director for Energy In Depth Ohio, said the survey results show that the economic benefits of shale development extend beyond just the oil and gas industry.
“Local residents are getting jobs. They’re spending more money,” he said.
“There’s overwhelming support regarding the oil and gas industry in east Ohio,” Bennett added.
But the survey also showed concern among respondents regarding shale development’s impact on local infrastructure. A majority of officials in counties with active shale development said there was a need for public road maintenance and an increased need for bridge maintenance and inspection.
About 61 percent of county commissioners reported that shale companies in their area had signed Road Use Maintenance Agreements, agreements under which private companies take on the cost of maintenance repair and upgrades to specified bridges and roads.
The survey showed low instances of environmental impacts in the counties, but Miller said that could be a “trailing issue” that emerges more as the development matures.