WHEELING - When the natural gas starts flowing from Marcellus Shale wells, the Ohio County Commission is among many entities that will cash in on royalty payments.
But just how much money will be garnered and what it will be used for remains to be seen.
There are two wells that Ohio County can potentially benefit from financially. One already is situated on the private Gantzer property, but it will take gas from beneath The Highlands, located just across Interstate 70. The county owns 300 acres of land at The Highlands, which is mostly owned by the county's development arm, the Ohio County Development Authority.
Photo by Shelley Hanson
Wheeling-Ohio County Airport Manager Tom Tominack stands in front of the new approach lighting system bridge at the end of the runway safety area. A natural gas drilling well site will be located about a mile from the airport’s terminal tower.
Another well is planned on county property near the Wheeling-Ohio County Airport. The permit for that well recently was approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
"There will be a well site on county property near the airport, but it's well off the airside property including runways and other airside facilities," said county Administrator Greg Stewart in response to questions about safety at the airport.
Airport Manager Tom Tominack said the well site, which underwent much scrutiny by the Federal Aviation Administration, will be located about a mile southeast of the terminal tower.
"I still feel content that the well and the airport will coexist just fine," Tominack said, noting there already is a well site near the airport in Brooke County. And another well is proposed on private property near the U.S. Army Reserve center, a neighbor of the airport.
Commissioner Randy Wharton said, to date, the commission does not have specific plans for the anticipated royalty proceeds. And the commission does not know when the wells will start producing gas or how much the county will actually receive in payments, he said.
''There are any number of things that could be done with it,'' Wharton said of the money.
County officials previously noted they used the county's initial lease agreement payment from Chesapeake Energy to pay down debt owed to contractors who performed work at The Highlands.
''We tried to make it so the Ohio County Commission would receive the lion's share of the royalties,'' Wharton said.
For example, the OCDA sold 300 acres of The Highlands to the commission, as the remaining acreage the gas company was dealing with - the county farm and land near the airport - was all county-owned. With this acreage in the hands of the county, the gas company, Chesapeake Energy, only had to deal with one entity. The initial lease payment was about $7.9 million, as the agreement called for the county to receive $3,600 per acre for 2,182 acres. The royalty rate was 18 percent.