BRIDGEPORT - High up on Kirkwood Heights in the Bridgeport area, natural gas producer David Hill hopes to drill the deepest gas well Ohio has ever known.
As those in West Virginia's Northern Panhandle find themselves cashing in on the profits - yet also dealing with the related environmental and safety risks - of Marcellus Shale drilling, Buckeye State residents across the Ohio River are now getting their own taste of the natural gas rush.
"The Marcellus Shale in eastern Belmont County could be very prolific and could provide a nice shot in the arm to the local economy," said Hill, who operates the Byesville, Ohio-based company that bears his name, David Hill Inc.
Photo by Scott McCloskey
Those traveling west on Interstate 70 near Bridgeport at night may notice this gas drilling rig on the hill in the Kirkwood Heights area.
"We are a local natural gas producer looking for local gas," he added in describing the objectives for his Guernsey County firm.
Drilling the Well
Those driving west on Interstate 70 over the past week or so may have noticed Hill's drilling rig rising above the tree tops. Hill said the well is now about 2,000 feet deep, but he hopes to eventually reach the 13,000- to 14,000-foot range. If he achieves such depth, the well will be the Buckeye State's deepest, as the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website shows the current record at 11,442 feet for a Noble County well drilled in 1967.
"In a perfect world, we would have that rig out of there in about three weeks. We would then enter the completion phase of the drilling," said Hill, who said he has been digging such holes for 31 years.
Hill said the company currently operates about 300 wells in Ohio and West Virginia. The areas of work stretch from Meigs County in southeast Ohio to Ashtabula County bordering Lake Erie, while the company maintains wells in Doddridge, Ritchie and Gilmer counties in the Mountain State.
"We are hoping the well will go through the Marcellus, but also the Clinton Sandstone and the Utica Shale," Hill said, noting these other layers of rock also are good for producing gas.
Hill said his drilling project has created 30-40 temporary jobs and will bring three to five permanent jobs once the well is complete. He also noted his company used local contractors to build the road to the drilling site, which is accessible from Belmont County Road 214, just off Interstate 470.
"It is not a sure thing by any means but if this well is successful, we could become very active in Belmont County," he said.
Belmont County Commissioner Ginny Favede said she is quite pleased to see Hill developing the Marcellus well, noting, "This could be very big in Belmont County."
Commissioner Matt Coffland referred all questions regarding the well to Favede.
According to a report from the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program, provided by Favede, natural gas producers currently pay about $57.5 million annually in local, state and federal taxes.
Additionally, the property owner, St. Clairsville-based Georgetown Marine Inc., is set to gain 12.5 percent worth of production royalties from the drilling site. Georgetown representatives directed all questions regarding the matter to Hill.
As for royalties, the oil and gas program report shows drillers currently pay about $126 million annually, with an additional $74 million worth of free natural gas provided to those landowners.
Favede is sure Belmont County will gain financially from the drilling, as she noted, "This allows some of our residents to make some money, and the money goes directly to them."
A June explosion at an AB Resources drilling site in Moundsville, a September ignition at a Chesapeake Energy site south of Cameron and a July gas leak from a TransEnergy Inc. drilling pad also near Cameron have many Upper Ohio Valley residents wondering if natural gas drilling is safe.
With three recent drilling accidents in Marshall County - along with several complaints of water contamination and other difficulties throughout the Marcellus Shale region - Favede and Hill acknowledge they must take proper safety precautions in regulating the activity.
"We would be naive not to recognize the potential dangers," said Favede. "We are working on training our fire departments on how to deal with any fires or accidents that may occur."
"Safety is job one," Hill said, noting he serves as chairman of the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program.
"I have followed some of the incidents that took place in Marshall County," he noted. "We will do everything we can to prevent anything like that from happening."
Hill added the education program offers a free training course to teach Ohio firefighters how to battle any potential natural gas blazes.
Favede, noting the gas well shafts are encapsulated in cement, said she is not concerned about potential water contamination in the county.
"At this point, I have no reason to be concerned about that," she said. "We, the board of commissioners, are going to bring in someone to educate us more on the matter, but we believe Mr. Hill will take the necessary precautions."