Appalachian Basin

Shale Development Makes Two Marcellus Counties Debt Free and Booming

The development of the Marcellus Shale has been a huge economic boost for communities across Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and that is especially true for two counties that recently made headlines: Tioga County, Pa. and Marshall County, W.V.

Tioga County is debt free thanks to shale development

Tioga County, like many counties in the Northern Tier, was heavily in debt prior to the Marcellus Shale boom that began a decade ago in Pennsylvania. Tioga County Commissioner and fourth generation dairy farmer, Erick Coolidge, recently told the Elmira Star-Gazette,

“I took office in ’96, we were multiple million dollars in debt.”

According to the Northern Tier Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) released in June 2008, the region had several weaknesses to overcome in order to see economic improvement. Two of the biggest factors impacting the region were an aging population, as children moved out of the region for employment, and high unemployment rates.

“High unemployment rates make it difficult to attract and retain an active and diverse population, and can lead to an overall deterioration in quality of life in the region. However, several enterprises in promising industry sectors are already located in the area, suggesting future opportunities for the ready workforce.” (pg. 52)

But that all changed when the natural gas industry came to the region. Companies soon invested in infrastructure, provided sustainable incomes, and generated revenue for these counties. Today Tioga County’s unemployment rate is 5.6 percent according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And according to Coolidge,

“With working together, we found ourselves to be debt free last October, and for the last 6 years we’ve managed the people’s money by balancing budgets with no tax increase.” (emphasis added)

In other words, Tioga County went from an area struggling to pay its debts and riddled with high unemployment to one that no longer has to increase taxes, is debt free, and has much of the county’s workforce employed. According to WETM, in 2014 alone,

“The Marcellus Shale Legacy Fund will pay Bradford County $7,054,000 and Tioga County will receive $4,404,637. According to figures released by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, Bradford County will receive an additional $3,748,241 and Tioga County will get another $7,482,060.”

In that same article, State Representative Matt Baker explained,

“Tioga and Bradford Counties are among the counties with the most gas wells in the state and, therefore, receive some of the largest amounts back in impact fees. The money helps counties and local communities address any impacts from the industry, such as the repair of local roadways, environmental protections and affordable housing opportunities.”

And this year, Tioga County received similar amounts:

“Tioga County will receive $3,593,564.21, with an additional $6,296,500.30 going back to Tioga County municipalities.”

In Coolidge’s testimony before the PA Senate Environmental Resources & Energy and Local Government Committees in March 2015, he described how the impact fee money the county received from shale development within its borders has made such amazing things possible. For example,

“The single most important benefit was having the ability to invest in our community as a result of the drilling activity. Act 13 made possible upgrades in areas until now that were not financially possible, for example:

  1. Additional cameras for the Prison, Courthouse and Department of Human Services
  2. GPS units placed in the County owned vehicles as a safety measure for personnel while working in the field
  3. Converted a county owned building into a new Emergency Services facility. Tioga County calls for both Tioga and Potter County, a land mass the size of the State of Delaware. Another good use of Act 13 funding providing service to rural communities with the latest technology.”

As the Elmira Star-Gazette pointed out,

“And those investments, such as upgrades to the Tioga County Courthouse, or the brand new emergency center in Wellsboro, came at no added cost to the taxpayers.” (emphasis added)

Marshall County booming thanks to shale development

Over in Marshall County, W.V. a similar story is unfolding. Marshall is located at a critical location to nearby Wheeling which was recently named the fifth fastest growing metropolitan in the United States, thanks to a 9.5 percent increase directly from shale development in the community. As County Commissioner Stanley Stewart recently told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review,

“There’s no question that the growth of the natural gas industry is with us and will continue. We seem to be the focal point, from the north end to the south end.”

Plans are in place to build a cluster of petrochemical, manufacturing and natural gas plants in the county that is rich with natural gas liquids, and has already become a hub of activity for development and pipeline infrastructure. From the Tribune-Review article,

“You’re going to have these facilities around where you have that production,” said Cory Taylor, manager of commercial development for Williams’ Ohio Valley supply hub. “That’s some of the best rock in the country. That’s what’s driving the need to have them there. You want to have that in close proximity.”

And residents are excited for the opportunities these projects will continue to bring for locals:

“It’s pretty exciting to see growth in the area,” said Gary Hinerman, a lifelong resident of Moundsville who supervises operations at Williams’ new gas and liquids processing plant at Oak Grove.

As of September, Marshall County’s unemployment rate was 5.5 percent, and community leaders hope to attract these facilities to keep that rate down. From the Tribune-Review article,

“Miners are suffering. We hope they can get jobs with other industries,” Stewart said.

Officials want to lure manufacturers that can use the cheap natural gas and liquids to power their operations or as a base component for plastics once they are converted at a cracker, such as the one Thai company PTT Global Chemical is considering just across the river in Ohio at a former coal-fired power plant.

We really hope to attract the crackers and downstream opportunities to get those long-term jobs,” Dennison said.

PTT is spending $100 million on engineering studies as it considers the site, and could build additional facilities for processing that would employ several hundred people.” (emphasis added)

Even as the industry has slowed down, the Mighty Marcellus—and Utica, too, in the case of Marshall County—continues to deliver economic opportunities for communities that never would have imagined having such stories to share a decade ago.

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