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The Suburbanite
  • Tapping the Utica Shale: 'It really is all here'

  • The past and future of Ohio’s petroleum industry are next-door neighbors in the Beck Industrial Park, where an idle pumpjack rusts a few yards from the rising steel skeleton of Chesapeake Energy’s new regional field office.

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  • The past and future of Ohio’s petroleum industry are next-door neighbors in the Beck Industrial Park, where an idle pumpjack rusts a few yards from the rising steel skeleton of Chesapeake Energy’s new regional field office.
    When Chesapeake’s complex is finished, it will have a five-story office building, silos, a maintenance facility and employ 400 workers in the company’s Utica Shale drilling operations.
    For now, it’s mostly a gravel parking lot for the heavy equipment used to horizontally drill and hydraulically fracture wells. Not much to look at.
    The same could be said for shale development in Stark County, where only seven Utica wells have been drilled, and just two are producing oil or natural gas.
    Look beyond those numbers, however, and Stark County’s strategic position in the Utica Shale region is easier to see.
    DRILLING ACTIVITY
    Statewide, shale drilling has created 38,000 jobs and added $4.1 billion to the state’s economy last year, according to global research firm IHS.
    By the end of March, 588 wells had been permitted with 282 of those drilled across 22 counties in eastern Ohio, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. No area has more activity than Carroll County, Stark’s neighbor to the south.
    In the hills and fields around Carrollton, drilling rigs run 24/7 and pipelines are steadily creeping across the countryside toward processing plants under construction in Kensington, Scio and Leesville.
    Carroll County had 39 wells producing by the end of last month, with 187 more to be drilled or begin production when the infrastructure projects are finished, according to the state.
    The activity is transforming the local economy and the community itself.
    Sales tax collections are up, and the unemployment rate is down. Fleets of heavy trucks run up and down the roads hauling equipment, water and other drilling supplies. New companies, such as Rex Energy, have established offices in Carrollton. Farmers have become millionaires.
    “It really is all here,” said Amy Rutledge, director of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce.
    CHESAPEAKE
    The main driller in Carroll County is Chesapeake, the nation’s second largest natural gas producer and a leading producer of oil.
    Chesapeake has leased the mineral rights to approximately 1 million acres in the Utica Shale and holds more than half of the drilling permits in Ohio. The core of its focus is Carroll, Columbiana and Harrison counties. If the deposits, mostly wet gas and oil, are as profitable as Chesapeake thinks, the company could be drilling here for the next 20 or 30 years.
    “It’s early, but with this kind of investment, we’re here to stay,” Keith Fuller, the company’s senior director of government affairs, said in January at a forum of the Stark County Oil and Gas Partnership.
    Page 2 of 2 - GOOD POSITION
    Being home to Chesapeake and adjacent to Carroll County, along with infrastructure such as rail lines, Interstate 77 and a regional airport, have made Stark an attractive location for companies ranging from drillers and law firms to engineers and surveyors.
     “We’re really fortunate in Stark County because we’ve got the best of both worlds,” said David Kaminski, Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce’s director of energy and public affairs. “All of the truck traffic is in Carrollton and all of the corporate headquarters are here.”
    Canton markets itself as the Utica Capital, and engineering companies Michael Baker and Dawood have based themselves downtown. Chesapeake is moving from several downtown offices to Louisville, while oilfield-servicer Baker Hughes is building a regional hub in Massillon.
    In all, 32 oil and gas companies moved into the area last year, according to statistics compiled by Canton.
    Existing local businesses also have benefited.
    Timken Co. supplies steel and bearings used by drilling companies. Alliance-based MAC Trailer builds trailers to haul water and other fluids. American Road Machine in Minerva assembles specialty vehicles for drillers.
    On the education front, Stark State College of Technology is positioning itself as a regional center for gas and oil education, and local school districts have begun tailoring career programs for students and adults who want to work in the industry.
    NEXT STEPS
    Still, there are things to figure out.
    Pipelines and processing facilities need to be built to ship the gas and oil.
    The combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, often called “fracking,” is environmentally controversial. One well uses millions of gallons of chemical-laced water, and the brine and other waste that comes up is hazardous, causing critics to fear drilling will pollute the water, land and air.
    Questions also remain as to how communities will deal with increased traffic, rental-price inflation and the changes that big-time industry can bring to rural towns.
    Projections are for 4,000 wells to be drilled in the Utica Shale by 2015, said Rhonda Reda, executive director of the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program.
    “We have no reason to believe that we’re not going to.”
    Reach Shane at 330-580-8338 or shane.hoover@cantonrep.com
    On Twitter: @shooverREP
    Repository writer Matthew Rink contributed to this report.