County Receives $496K For Oil, Gas Drilling Rights

Representatives of Rice Energy on Wednesday presented Belmont County officials with a check for more than $496,072 for drilling rights under the East Ohio Industrial Park in Barnesville, while county commissioners addressed questions about whether dollars they receive from the drilling industry should be put toward the county’s roads.

The check presented Wednesday is a signing bonus for the county for the leasing of oil and gas drilling rights under 67 acres at the park. That price equals about $7,404 an acre.

The check was the second to be received in Belmont County from Rice Energy this year, and a third is expected later this summer. In April, Belmont County received $3,040,820 for about 405 acres of county land, and last month the county and Rice Energy announced an agreement through which the company will pay the county $3.48 million for another 424.6 acres.

The third check is to come this fall.

In total, Rice Energy will pay Belmont County $7,016,892 in 2014 for drilling rights.

The money paid to the county Wednesday will go to the Belmont County Port Authority, and Director Larry Merry said the agency will reinvest the funds in the park after repaying the county $50,000 advanced to the Port Authority for projects there.

“It’s already been put back into the park,” he said. “We borrowed from the commissioners (to install water and sewer lines). This will allow us to do more things at the industrial park.”

The money borrowed from the commissioners through the Belmont County general fund will be returned, according to Merry.

“Rice Energy is growing, but they are very committed to this community,” he said.

“They are not here to just take our reserves, but to work with us.”

Commissioners committed the initial check for $3,040,820 from Rice Energy to refinancing existing bonds and paying off county debt.

But some residents present urged commissioners to put at least some of the incoming $3.48 million toward improving the county’s roads.

“I would rather spend the money on the millions of dollars in upgrades we need to our water wells … improve our lines and upgrade pump stations,” Commissioner Mark Thomas said.

“If we have any money left after that – and we won’t – we should give money to our local governments that are being hurt.”

Last week, Thomas said he would oppose giving County Engineer Fred Bennett any dollars out the county’s general fund to pave roads in the county until Bennett presented a plan to commissioners for maintaining the county’s highways.

Thomas said Wednesday he and Bennett have since met on the issue, and Bennett indicated he would cooperate and craft a plan.

“The issue isn’t just about going in and paving roads,” he said. “There has to be a policy or procedure in place about yearly maintenance. The reason the roads are in the shape they are in is, in my opinion, there is no maintenance plan. If the county’s financial condition continues to improve, then I have no problem giving general fund money to pave county roads.”