Utica Shale Allows Local Conservancy District to Reduce Property Owner Fees
On Friday, the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District’s (MWCD) Board of Directors approved two measures that demonstrate the enormous value of safe and responsible shale development in eastern Ohio. The MWCD voted to approve a lease with Antero Resources, and money from the lease will be earmarked for operations and improvements to the conservancy district. This new influx of cash from leasing also provided enough revenue to allow the MWCD Board of Directors to vote for reducing assessments on property owners by 50 percent beginning in 2015.
In their first order of business concerning shale development, the MWCD voted to approve a lease of 6,300 acres of MWCD property to Antero Resources in the Piedmont Lake area for $15,000 per acre, plus 20 percent royalties. This deal alone raised $94.5 million in bonus lease payments for the MWCD. These funds will be allocated to reducing the assessment currently paid by landowners and making enhancements to MWCD to properties.
Of course, this is not the first time the MWCD has approved an oil and gas lease for their properties. They have worked with oil and gas companies over the entire 80 year history of the organization, as part of their natural resources stewardship program. The MWCD has an estimated 275 Clinton wells producing royalties with 120 wells on MWCD-owned property.
The partnership between the industry and MWCD has provided “revenues to enhance public benefit and services while ensuring the highest level of environmental protections[SE1] .” Of course, this revenue has increased notably since the advent of shale development in eastern Ohio.
Prior to Friday’s vote, the MWCD has entered into three lease agreements since 2011 on property near Clendening, Leesville and Seneca Lake reservoirs, raising $77.8 million in signing bonuses and $3 million in royalty revenue. With the lease approval on Friday, the MWCD has received a total of $172.3 million in upfront bonus payments.
According to the MWCD, the money raised by these leases has been put to very good use.
“The funds have been used to pay down the MWCD debt, improve public access, and begin planning and work on a $160 million plan to upgrade the MWCD’s recreational facilities, including its lake parks, campgrounds and marinas it operates.”
In addition to improvements to the watershed, the MWCD’s Board of Director voted on Friday to reduce annual assessments by 50 precent paid by the owners of nearly 500,000 parcels of properties in the MWCD’s 18-county region. This new reduction will be put into place in 2015, marking the first reduction of the assessment since it was enacted in 2009. John M. Hoopingarner, MWCD Executive Director/Secretary, applauded the board’s decision to reduce the assessment.
“Through the wise guidance of the MWCD’s Board of Directors, the oil-and-gas management on the district’s properties have permitted the MWCD to invest in our public-use facilities and recreational areas, and now it is possible to extend those benefits to the property owners in our watershed by enacting this 50-percent reduction in the assessment collection.”
These two actions taken by the MWCD Board of Directors on Friday signify the tremendous benefits Utica Shale development is providing to the MWCD and its residents. From assessment reductions to making improvements throughout the watershed, conservation and shale development are moving forward together.