Conservation District Brings $1 Billion to Ohio Region Thanks to Utica Shale Revenues
Natural gas and oil development in the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) has brought $1 billion of economic impact to the region, according to a new analysis by Cleveland State University. The historic partnership has also supported 2,606 jobs totaling nearly $300 million in wages and benefits over the past nine years, while bringing increases in state and local tax revenue and growth in related industries such as transportation, tourism, and infrastructure.
MWCD Executive Director Craig Butler called the decision to allow energy development on state lands – all while protecting and preserving Ohio’s lands – a “bold step:”
“Through careful planning, analysis, and through a comprehensive lease and program, MWCD is leading the way and showing how we can have nearly $1 billion of economic impact, all while offering the best camping, fishing and overall recreation opportunities in Ohio. I am proud of decision by the Board of Directors and staff made in 2011 and very proud that we have been able to invest and support the region through these investments.”
EID has discussed the many benefits stemming from oil and gas development in the MWCD. Thanks to revenues from Utica Shale leases, MWCD has invested more than $220 million in upgrades to its facilities. This includes efforts to build new campgrounds, renovate aging spaces, add new playgrounds, sports courts, trails, shower houses and wastewater utilities infrastructure the District calls “a level of quality rarely found in public parks and campgrounds anywhere in the country.”
Given the success of MWCD’s Master Plan, the district recently signed its largest oil and natural gas lease to date to develop 7,300 acres of land in the Utica Shale basin. The five-year contract will result in around 15 wells, with the possibility to add additional wells in an optional three-year extension.
However, MWCD and oil and gas operators take great care to ensure that the wells are no hindrance to parkgoers.
In a video highlighting these standards, Brad Janseen, Chief of Natural Resources and Land Management, says:
“We work with the operators to do things like sound walls for sound proofing and buffering. We do surveys before a rig even gets on the pad.”
Additionally, the new analysis highlights the many conservation efforts MWCD has been able to achieve, thanks to oil and gas revenues:
“MWCD has also made investments in conservation including (a) Nutrient Management Programs, (b)Cover Crop Programs, (c) Water Quality Testing and Research, (d) purchase of approximately 6000 acres in Willis Creek, (e) Acid Mine Drainage Mitigation, (f) Abandon Well Program, (g) Sustainability Programs, and (h) the Partners in Watershed Management Program. The Partners in Watershed Management Program has, for example, helped distribute more than $10 million dollars in enhanced flood mitigation grants throughout MWCD’s entire service area since 2009 to address storm water management issues and to provide assistance to local communities for conservation and flood control projects that are consistent with the conservancy district’s mission.” (emphasis added)
A Case Study for Responsible Development
MWCD’s partnership with oil and gas operators while maintaining strict stewardship over Ohio’s lands is a prime case study in responsible development and comes the same week that the Ohio Oil & Gas Land Management (OGLM) Commission meets to finally determine the fate of energy development underneath state lands.
Catch up quick: In 2011, Ohio’s General Assembly approved fracking under state lands, but development failed to take place. Then in 2017, former Gov. John Kasich passed a bill to establish the Oil and Gas Leasing Commission, an entity created to govern the process of shale gas development under state lands. However, that commission sat empty for years with no appointments made. Even after additional language was added to incentivize the commission, the rules were never promulgated, resulting in a de facto moratorium.
Last year, Ohio’s Statehouse passed, and Gov. Mike DeWine signed, H.B. 507, allowing for the safe development of oil and natural gas under the surface of state-owned lands. H.B 507 tells state agencies they “shall” sign leases to allow drilling under state-owned land until the Commission adopts formal rules for leasing. Fast forward to this past year when the OGLM has been meeting to consider such leasing.
Pending the outcome, this week’s decision could finally allow for the safe and responsible development of state lands and the ability to access trapped natural gas and oil from beneath state-owned lands. This would be a huge boon for the state – and for parks and regions able to replicate the success of the MCWD – by building on the already incredible investments the state has seen since 2011. Since the Shale Revolution, the oil and gas industry has provided $100 billion in revenue to the state, continues to support schools and important county programs, and provide family-sustaining jobs to over 200,000 Ohioans.
Bottom Line: The bold and historic partnership between the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District and oil and natural gas operators has been a $1 billion economic machine for the region. The partnership is proof point that conservation, sustainability, and oil and gas are not mutually exclusive – but in fact, can all work together for the benefit of the state and our beautiful Ohio lands.