Belpre Chamber discusses economic, environmental impact of shale development

BELPRE- If drilling of the Utica Shale natural gas deposit makes its way into Washington County, towns like Belpre could see benefits to businesses as workers will need places to live and eat, said an official from the Southeastern Ohio Oil and Gas Association.

SOOGA President Jim Javins spoke to around 30 people at the Belpre Area Chamber of Commerce Wednesday, discussing the economic and environmental impact of the Utica Shale on the area.

”Jobs is always the big issue,” he said. ”Whenever you read anything about the Utica Shale and the State of Ohio, it is that it has created many jobs.

”It is suppose to create many more and I think it will, because it has been very successful.”

The Utica Shale is primarily under Ohio with the primary location for drilling extending from the eastern border to the center of the state. The Utica Shale, which covers around 14,000 square miles, or 10 million acres, is deeper than the Marcellus Shale, which is more prevalent in West Virginia.

Counties in eastern Ohio, including Carroll, Harrison, Columbiana, Jefferson, Guernsey, Noble and Monroe, where Utica development has occurred have seen a drop in their unemployment rates of 1-3 percentage points. Sales tax revenues have increased by 10 to 25 percent in some areas.

”You should see an increase in business across the board if this thing comes to Belpre,” Javins said.

Energy companies have invested $2.75 billion in Utica Shale development in Ohio, Javins said. Those figures do not include lease and royalty payments, regular operations and other expenses.

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce Study estimates 65,680 new jobs in natural gas-related fields in 2014. The Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program study estimates around 204,000 new jobs in 2015 based on exploration/production and supply.

It takes 75 workers to take a typical well from planning to production, Javins said. Every shale well site requires about 400 workers.

”These things are huge,” he said ”They require a lot of equipment, manpower and services.”

Impacts to the area will be a need for rental property/housing, lodging, real estate services, restaurants, health care, convenience stores, automotive dealers, repair garages, shopping, legal services, welding services, pipeline services, employment agencies, recreational facilities, technical training/schools, insurance and improvements to the school systems as more families will move to the area.

Environmental impacts include increased traffic, noise and dust from trucks, drilling rigs and heavy equipment, Javins said. Roads may be in need of repair more often.

Fracking should not be an environmental impact as it is completed 1 to 1.5 miles underground, which is much deeper than the groundwater supplies, he said.

Javins said the first Washington County horizontal well in the Ohio Utica Shale began operation on April 15. The well in on the Farley pad in northern Washington County. It is one of four wells that will be at that site.

Karen Waller, director of the Belpre Area Chamber of Commerce, said there is an interest in what might be coming and how it will impact the area.

”Obviously there is an interest,” she said. ”We are working hard as a community to advance the business climate and the quality of life in the area.

”I live here and I am interested in how all of this might impact my life and my residency here.”

Whether Utica Shale development makes it down around Belpre remains to be seen. As wells are developed, operators keep track of gas production. If wells are underperforming, operators may move from an area.

”Until it gets here, we are just talking,” Javins said of potential benefits and impacts.