Appalachian Basin

Economic Development Experts Tout Benefits of Shale

The Ohio University held their inaugural Appalachian Ohio State of the Region Conference in Athens, Ohio.  Unfortunately, those in attendance were not privy to any sort of objective discussion or analysis of the facts and facets of oil and gas development, but rather subject to the tired and baseless rhetoric we’ve seen in the area in months prior.

By in large, the panel discussions were poorly assembled and lacked any diverse opinion on issues that matter to citizens of Eastern Ohio. On more than five occasion I heard complaints from those in attendance, each from a different county, questioning why they showed up to listen to such nonsense.  But even out of such a poor event, there was one clear fact that couldn’t be denied: shale exploration is creating jobs in both Pennsylvania and Ohio.

It is emerging as the driving force in bringing much needed jobs back to our state and is projected that shale development may provide as many as 204,520 jobs by 2015.   These are well-paying jobs in areas that have historically had citizens making much less than the statewide average.

The highlight of the day included an in-depth look at the economic impacts of continued development. The panel was comprised of Jerry Walls, Retired Planning Director for Lycoming County, Pennsylvania and Glenn Enslen from Carroll County, Ohio.  The audience got a unique look at what to expect from shale production ramping up in their area.

Mr. Walls has seen shale development progress for the past four years in his hometown of Williamsport, Pa, and provided those in attendance a unique perspective on an experience we will share in the coming years. As he discussed this exposure, he noted that in the beginning of that state’s development they witnessed an experienced workforce coming in from out of town as local residents gained the needed skills to work in the natural gas industry. Prior to development of the Marcellus Shale, Pennsylvania did not have the workforce – nor the need for one – to handle the incredible demand from the development of horizontal Marcellus wells. Now of course, the situation is much different for our neighbors to the east. With 70% of the workforce in that state being local hires, and nearly 212,000 jobs tied to the oil and gas industry, things are looking quite differently for our friends in the Commonwealth.

Thankfully, Ohio had the foresight to see Utica development coming our way.  Zane State and Eastern Gateway Community College already have programs in place to prepare workers, and the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program is working diligently to develop curriculum to help higher education institutions provide quality programs.  As we move through the leasing and exploration phase through the next three years, the industry and those providing it’s workforce are dedicated to ensuring proper training and education needed to put Ohio workers in the best position to benefit from the growing demands of this burgeoning industry.

Aside from creating new jobs for the region, Mr. Walls highlighted something we are starting to see here in Ohio already- the revitalization of brown-fields, empty factories and abandoned buildings coming from energy producers or those who support them. What Mr. Walls has seen transpire in Williamsport for the past years, we are beginning to experience here at home in areas like Youngstown and Mingo Junction.

Commercial buildings that have often been vacant, particularly with some of the economic downturns that we’ve had, are now being leased by gas companies as well as suppliers and support and service companies. – Jerry Walls

It’s not only landowners and municipalities seeing direct benefit from support companies coming into these areas to rebuild – indirect and service jobs have been growing heavily in Lycoming County, showcased here by our friends from Energy in Depth – Marcellus and  in the clip below.

Other categories of increased business include restaurants, entertainment venues.  Williamsport  is a happening place to be these days, especially if you are a local resident looking for a job, considering its the 7th fastest growing metropolitan area in the nation.

Now that this movement has headed west into Ohio, and Carroll County has become the epicenter of shale development.  Glenn Enslen, director of Economic Development for the county, is seeing local businesses thrive business thrive as they reap the benefits of Utica Shale production.

Mr. Enslen gave an overview of what he has seen since development began there a year ago, and it has been quite a turnaround.  Below, he highlights how these companies want to grow their Ohio facilities as quick as they can, as a result local businesses are having their best years in recent history.

Local companies have benefited already.  One local fencing company until the boom talked about how many feet of fence can we sell a year, now they are talking about  how many miles of fence they are going to sell this year.  The farmers exchange that sells straw went from selling a couple hundred bales a year to selling ten thousand bales a year and in a mad scramble to get more.  – Glenn Enslen

In keeping with their roots, Carroll County is seeking to prosper while maintaining their culture. One question posed to Mr. Enslen concerned the newfound wealth of local landowners and what sort of impact it may have in an agricultural community.

Our first assumption was that a lot of newly rich farmers would say ‘that’s it and let it grow up in weeds I’m done’. We’re seeing just the opposite.  The local farm dealers say they are coming in a saying I want that, that , that and that and just writing a check.  There is no talk about financing. – Glen Enslen

This new source of revenue for landowners who have leased their mineral rights is allowing for folks to spend money in their local stores, which, of course, benefits both the store owners and the employees they hire. It has also allowed for some of the farmers to invest in new farming opportunities that would not have been feasible  had they not leased their land. So, while money may never grow on trees, it is certainly helping grow local businesses and family farms here in Ohio.

Much like Mr. Walls has experienced in his hometown in Williamsport, the residents of Carroll County are increasingly witnessing the benefits energy development is bringing to their community. It’s a sign of the times, and of things to come; It is what Eastern Ohio once was, and now, thanks to the geological gift we have in the Utica Shale, will soon be again.

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