Barnesville Putting Brakes On Gas Industry Trucks for Pumpkin Festival

BARNESVILLE – As officials prepare to weigh giant pumpkins during the Barnesville Pumpkin Festival this month, Mayor Ron Bischof hopes the fleets of huge natural gas industry trucks do not disrupt the fun.

With the weigh-in for the 50th annual event set for Sept. 25, Bischof is working to ensure festival attendees will not have to look out for large, “sand can” trucks traveling between drilling sites while eating their pumpkin ice cream.

“The size of the trucks – and the number of trucks – out here now is just unreal,” said Bischof. “These are massive, massive trucks coming through here.”

Barnesville lies in the heart of eastern Ohio’s Utica Shale natural gas drilling blitz. Trucks transporting water, sand, chemicals and equipment travel through the village daily, as Barnesville is home to the junction of the heavily traveled Ohio 800 and Ohio 147. Companies such as Antero Resources, Gulfport Energy, Magnum Hunter, XTO Energy, Hess Corp. and others are drilling and fracking throughout Belmont, Monroe, Noble, Guernsey and Harrison counties.

One of the Antero wells in Monroe County is so prolific that Tim Carr, Marshall Miller Professor of Energy at West Virginia University, estimates it could be yielding as much as $300,000 worth of revenue per day.

“There is just an immense amount of activity out here now,” Bischof said. “And it’s all because of the drilling.”

The festival is slated to run from the evening weigh-in on Sept. 25 through Sept. 29. The event draws thousands of visitors to downtown Barnesville annually.

“What we would like is a voluntary moratorium during certain hours of the festival,” said Bischof, noting he has asked for help from the city police department, the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Ohio Department of Transportation.

“It would seem to me that the companies would not want to have their trucks sitting in the traffic during that time when they are paying the drivers so much. It would not make economic sense,” Bischof said, noting he has spoken to representatives from a few trucking companies who seemed to agree with him.

The festival is always held the last full weekend in September. Since the free event’s humble 1964 beginnings, it has grown to draw visitors from throughout the nation – along with record-setting gourds.

“I remember when people would win with 65-pound pumpkins. Now we regularly get them in at 1,500 pounds,” Bischof said.

One of the key festival features this year will be the filming of the Ohio Lottery’s Cash Explosion show on Sept. 27. Two shows will be done during the Cash Explosion’s visit, one in the afternoon and the other in the evening. The shows will be filmed in the high school auditorium, and 1,200 people will be able to attend each show.

Village officials previously signed a drilling deal with Antero. Bischof said there are several possibilities for the $6 million worth of lease money the community already has received, plus the royalty payments that are expected once extraction begins. He noted that a recreation center with an indoor swimming pool could serve the village well, pointing out that members of the Barnesville High School swim team now have to travel to Wheeling for practice during cool weather.

“We would also like to look at replacing some of the village’s waterlines,” Bischof said. “We would hope to do it before they all go bad.”

Denver-based Antero also signed many individual landowners within the village to contracts, paying $5,700 per acre to lease their land and agreeing to pay 20 percent of production royalties once the gas starts pumping. Barnesville Exempted Village School Superintendent Randy Lucas said for a little more than 63 acres, the school district is getting $362,602. Antero donated another $37,500 to the the district, increasing the total payment to $400,102.

Lucas said most of the acreage leased to Antero is located under the high school and middle school campuses. However, Lucas and Bischof said residents and students need not fear that drilling rigs will pop up beside the schools. This is because Antero will use the horizontal drilling method, which involves drilling wells outside the village limits before turning the shafts to reach the gas under Barnesville.

Lucas said the school is placing the money into a capital projects fund, which he said the district could use for repairs to buildings, new technology, boilers, and more.