OU Studies Shale Impact

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Whether it is a drilling rig alongside Interstate 70, the large Oil & Gas Safety Supply store on National Road or the convoy of sand trucks on many secondary roads, those driving through Belmont County are sure to notice an impact from the Utica Shale boom.

“The impact we are seeing is dramatic,” Belmont County Commissioner Mark Thomas said. “Over the next five years, the impact will create economic changes that no one has ever seen here.”

It’s not just Belmont County that stands to benefit from the shale boom, as a new study conducted by Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs polled 66 mayors and city managers, 16 county commissioners and 109 township trustees regarding how the shale industry is affecting their communities. The survey area included 17 counties, from as far north as Trumbull County to as far south as Washington County.

The Athens, Ohio-based research institution lies just to the southwest of the survey zone, and energy companies are now active in both Athens and Hocking counties.

“Shale development is having a major impact on the communities of eastern Ohio,” Scott Miller, director of the Voinovich School’s Consortium for Energy, Economics & the Environment, said. “No one knows better the full effect of this industry on local communities than the target of this survey – the elected officials charged with serving this region: its mayors, county commissioners, township trustees and city managers.”

Across the survey region, 61.4 percent of local officials found the overall impact “positive,” while only 7.8 percent found the cumulative effect “negative.” The remaining officials either found relatively no impact from the industry or declined to answer the question.

Though Thomas and Richland Township Trustee Greg Bizzarri said they did not participate in the study, both agreed the impact is significant now – and will likely increase during the next few years.

“People are signing leases and getting payments. This money is trickling down through the economy in the form of people purchasing new vehicles and other items,” Thomas said. “Anytime you can create new business, you add to your tax base.”

Unlike West Virginia, in which the state Division of Highways is responsible for virtually all road maintenance, Ohio’s road system is much more localized. Bizzarri said maintaining township roads is becoming a challenge because of the beating they take from the heavy equipment used in the natural gas business.

“We have road usage maintenance agreements with the companies using our roads,” Bizzarri said. “It is just like any other business. Some of them are very cooperative with us, while others are not.”

The survey shows that in counties with active “refinery” development, such as Harrison with the ever-expanding MarkWest Energy facilities in Cadiz and Hopedale, 95 percent of leaders said road maintenance was a problem.

“We have a list of roads that the private sector has paved and that they promise will be paved,” Thomas said. “The biggest issue we face as a county, I believe, is that we need to increase our water and sewer capacity. In order to accommodate the amount of development that we could see, we have to be able to meet these demands.”

Bizzarri said he would “lean toward the positive” on the overall impact the shale boom is bringing to the county, but advised those collecting lease and royalty payments to be careful with their funds.

“I hope the people who get rich have good attorneys and accountants,” he said.

Meanwhile, new businesses to service the industry are opening throughout eastern Ohio, including the Oil & Gas Safety Supply store, located west of St. Clairsville in the former Green Barn location. Drillers and frackers looking for new helmets, jeans, boots, fire-resistant clothing or other safety equipment with find them at the store.

“Everything is going pretty well. Our business has picked up recently,” said store Manager Anna Catalano.