Appalachian Basin

Time to Step on the Gas

Utica Shale exploration in Ohio presents a solution to many problems currently confronting the state.  Like many Ohioans, I wear “many hats” in life.  I am an attorney.  I have represented Ohio employers and workers for many years.  My former clients include small businesses, a major steel manufacturer, and many individuals and families.  From this perspective, I know that companies want to provide good jobs and earn a fair profit.  In order to do this, they need customers.   Unfortunately, in recent years businesses and families have suffered greatly from a downturned economy. That was before Utica Shale development.  Now, oil and gas development is giving work to Ohio businesses across an entire spectrum of skill-sets including pipe manufacturers, truck manufacturers, truckers, surveyors, laborers, and many more.

In my current practice, I have had several landowners bring oil and gas leases to me for my professional review.  Although we often need to make changes before it is in their best interest to sign, my clients are receiving thousands of dollars at a time to lease their land for energy exploration.  These same folks had no idea one year ago that their property could be so valuable.  With some people recieving compensation as high as $25,000 or greater you can see how this is a real boost to my clients, neighbors, and our economy.

Another “hat” I wear is as an elected county commissioner.  I took office in January 2011.  In the past year, I have observed many new jobs in our county as a result of oil and gas development.  The county recorder’s office is no longer quiet.  There are new faces visiting every week as people explore land records to secure oil and gas leases.  These folks are all being paid and are spending money in our county for food, housing, and other needs.

In addition to this activity, this summer we saw a new employer come to our county.  The company manufactures tankers, primarily for use in the oil and gas industry.  Many workers have already been hired and the company will employ 200 people once they are operating at full capacity.  When I see these crews, and these new trucks, I am excited for the economic boost to our community and everyone working with, or at, the site. I have checked with our long time county engineer about the impacts on our roads of such big trucks.  He has assured me that, statewide, engineers are cooperating on a model road-use agreement that will safeguard the roads of Ohio’s towns and counties.  In general, this means companies who use the road enough to cause damage will pay to fix it through bonding in advance, direct investments and other means.

From the county perspective, one benefit that will accrue is significant new funding in the form of tax revenue.  None of us like taxes, but some tax revenue is necessary to run county government.  The more money that comes in from a new source, the less burden there is on our families and friends to support the needed governmental services that benefit us all.  At the same time, we can improve on existing services by purchasing needed equipment for law enforcement, the courts and other worthy places.

However, some have urged caution in the ongoing development of Utica Shale resources in light of the environmental concerns that have been raised as activity picks up.  My research of state records verified that hydraulic fracturing has been used safely in Ohio for more than 50 years.  Every oil and gas lease that I have reviewed in my legal practice outlines in great detail the energy company’s obligation to protect the individual’s property and groundwater resources.  These leases often contain provisions that dictate – in very clear terms – the responsibility of the energy company to the homeowner should an accident occur on-site.

Despite my personal positive experiences with industry, I have heard from many citizens who sincerely believe Utica Shale development in Ohio is a dangerous enterprise.  Early in each conversation, these folks suggest to me that any jobs created will be short term or low paying. It’s as if they deligitmize their existence without question.  For me, given my background research and historical knowledge of the industry, I know the industry is not dangerous, but rather that its safe. Yet there was one criticism that still required investigation:  the allegation that jobs were temporary, low-paying and unsustainable.  As a former Union steward, I just had to get to the bottom of this.  I recently spoke with a full time staff person for a group of union tradesmen.  I asked a gentleman if he and his colleagues had an opinion about drilling and the jobs it would bring.  I was thrilled to hear that Ohio union workers are qualified to perform 60-70% of these jobs and that they are high paying.  It also seems that these jobs will last for years because of the estimated supply.

From the attorney, former union steward, and county commissioner perspective, I am enthusiastic about oil and gas exploration in Ohio.  But the most important perspective for me is as a mother. Like most Ohioans, my life is not glamorous, but it is happy.  I like going to my daughter’s soccer games. I am very interested in my ten-year-old daughter staying right here in Ohio when she is grown.  I am interested in her and her family someday enjoying energy security  and living in a world where dependency on the Middle East is no longer needed.  I am convinced that securing the energy that exists below the surface in Ohio is exactly the way to accomplish this.

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