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Weekly election wrap:

Oil, gas & Nov. 6; Candidates offer views on major economic, environmental issue

August 13, 2012
By Sam Shawver - The Marietta Times (sshawver@mariettatimes.com) , The Marietta Times

Candidates for Washington County Commissioner and for state House and Senate seats were asked to comment on the expected economic boom as oil and gas companies move into the state seeking to mine oil and gas from Ohio's Marcellus and Utica shale beds.

David White, Republican candidate for county commissioner:

"I have very few reservations about the shale oil and gas industry coming here," White said.

Article Photos

The Associated Press
Workers stand near a rig that drills into the shale at a gas well site in Washington, Pa.

"First of all, I think it's a good thing that will provide a boost for the local economy in both the short and long terms," he said. "My only area of concern is that we need better planning for injection wells."

Injection wells are used by the industry to store "brine" a mixture of salt and other chemicals that make up wastewater from shale oil and gas hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, operations. The brine is pumped into the injection wells where it's stored deep underground.

"The wells are deep and lined to protect against leaking underground, but there could be the chance of a surface spill from a truck hauling the liquid," White said. "We need to be prepared to handle a cleanup if there is a spill, and the (oil and gas) companies have to be responsible for any spills."

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He said the projected shale oil and gas boom for the local area would benefit everybody, boosting the economy through a variety of spinoff businesses as well as generating taxes for the county.

"Everybody stands to benefit," White said. "They say a rising tide lifts all boats."

He does not favor a severance tax on the shale industry that has been proposed by Gov. John Kasich.

"People in government often see dollar signs and rush to get their share of the profits, but I think the tax could prevent this boom from happening," White said. "The shale drilling vehicles have wheels on them for a reason-and they don't have to stay in Ohio."

He said regulation will be necessary, but cooperation is also a key factor between the state and the oil and gas companies.

"I think this movement has the potential to be the best thing that's happened to this area in the last 30 to 50 years," White said.

Peg Littler, Democratic candidate for county commissioner:

"Most of the good I can see now from the fracking industry is for any area landowners who have the potential for financial benefit from oil and gas development, but the county would also benefit indirectly through taxes," Littler said.

She said landowners should be cautious when entering into lease or purchase agreements with oil and gas companies.

"If something seems too good to be true, it may be," Littler said. "I'm not a landowner, so I have nothing to gain, but I would do all the research I could about the companies, including how they have done in other states and how they have treated other landowners."

Legal representation is always advisable to be sure the proper contracts are in place and followed, she said.

"Our county roads are a concern, too," Littler added.

The county has developed a Road Use Maintenance Agreement (RUMA) that oil and gas companies must sign before beginning drilling operations here. The companies must agree to repair and make any necessary improvements to county roadways over which heavy equipment will be traveling.

"I'm a little skeptical of that-even though they're putting it in writing," Littler said. "They may not provide the quality of road work we want."

She said the projected shale oil and gas boom would be a good thing for the county, but it's not wise to jump into anything without first making plenty of preparation.

"But who could be against more money coming to our area landowners and into the county?" Littler asked.

Ron Feathers, Republican candidate for county commissioner:

"I think it's a great opportunity for this area, we're sitting right on the precipice of an economic boom," said Feathers.

He said some people are concerned that oil and gas companies will come in, rip up the land, and leave.

"But I think the companies are going to be good neighbors-they want to be," Feathers said. "And that's why we have local government to work with these companies."

He said loading the companies down with taxes is not a good idea.

"One area some people are not paying attention to is the severance tax the state wants to place on the industry," he said. "That's ridiculous, to think the state wants to pull taxes off the natural resources coming from property that someone owns."

Feathers said the companies should be responsible for the roadways they use.

"We just don't want to push that too far," he said. "And there's no indication that they're not going to maintain those roads."

The oil and gas companies will need the right infrastructure in place (utilities, Internet availability, etc.) as they come into the county, Feathers said.

"Rural areas will see improvements to their infrastructure because these companies will need it, although I believe we have most of that infrastructure in place already," he said. "We want to make this area as business friendly as possible, but that has to be done wisely and prudently."

Feathers added that the single best thing local officials can do as the shale oil and gas industry moves into Washington County is to keep local people informed about the latest developments.

Democratic County Commissioner Cora Marshall:

"I support economic development and consider growth in the local oil and gas industry to be economic development, so I'm not against it at all. But on the other hand we want to be sure that the county and the state have the proper regulations in place as these companies move into this area," Marshall said.

She said oil and gas drilling will be big projects that require regular inspection and enforcement.

"One purpose of strong regulation of this industry is to make sure our water resources are safe," Marshall said. "Water quality means everything to economic development, to local property values, and to agriculture."

She doesn't want anything to degrade the county's agricultural heritage.

"We want this to be a win/win situation for everyone-not just for the companies or property owners, but for everyone in the county," Marshall added. "Our utmost concern should be protection for residents and the environment. And I would encourage baseline water testing before well drilling begins in an area."

As for county roadways that might suffer from the extra truck and drilling equipment traffic, she said the county already has a road use maintenance agreement in place that companies will be required to sign before beginning work here.

"A fracking advisory committee has also just been established to help keep the community informed about hydraulic fracturing activity in the county," Marshall said. "And we're working toward wireless Internet broadband service here which is important to economic growth as well as to the oil and gas companies."

She agrees with Governor Kasich's severance tax on the industry.

"Government departments are going to have to do regular testing, inspections, and enforcement of the shale industry, and where else would the money to pay for those services come from?" Marshall asked.

Ohio Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, running for the 95th District House seat:

Thompson said drilling for oil and natural gas in the deep-underground Utica and Marcellus shale formations promises economic benefits for the region and the state.

He believes regulatory legislation passed this year puts the state in a good position, and said he's opposed to creating a new tax on the materials extracted, something Gov. John Kasich, a fellow Republican, has proposed.

"That's money that leaves southeast Ohio and goes to Columbus. We've not always had good luck with that," Thompson said. "If Ohio is not going to be friendly, there's plenty of other shale places (the companies) can go."

Charlie Daniels of St. Clairsville is the Democratic candidate for the 95th District House seat:

Daniels said he does not favor a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing to access resources in the Utica and Marcellus shale, as some have proposed, citing concerns over the safety of the practice.

"We have the technology to do it (and be) environmentally responsible," he said.

Daniels said he thinks it's fair to tax the resources being withdrawn, as long as the industry isn't "over-taxed."

"The companies understand ... they're going to pay some taxes," he said.

Daniels said not only oil and gas but also coal are vital to the future of the region, the state and the country. While new technology like solar and wind power should be developed, they can't take over from those traditional sources yet. Investing in oil, natural gas and coal will bolster the economy and help improve the United States' energy independence, Daniels said.

"We need to combine all our energy, including the small percentage of renewable energy we have," he said.

Ohio Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Albany, is running for the 94th House District seat.

Phillips said there's a lot of potential for this region with shale oil and gas activity.

"But it's important that this is done right," she said. "For example, early on some landowners may have signed leases that were not as good as they could have been to protect their water and land resources. Now many have formed landowner associations to be better informed and protect their rights before signing."

Phillips said it's important to have regulations in place to make sure oil and gas exploration and development is safe.

"And local governments should have regulations to address issues like proper water testing and road maintenance by these companies," she said. "Everyone needs to be educated about the industry and how it works."

She noted Internet sites like lookbeforeyoulease.org can be helpful for landowners.

As for Governor Kasich's severance tax proposal, Phillips said she has no problem with a tax increase because companies should pay for the business they do in the state and because there will be a need to pay for additional inspectors as the oil and gas industry grows.

"And my understanding is that this tax would be lower than that being charged in other states," she said. "My concern is that this could be used to replace the income tax. If so, companies would just pass the tax cost on to consumers, and I'm not for giving tax breaks to the wealthy."

Republican Charles Richter of Little Hocking is also running for the 94th House District.

Richter is looking forward to the economic boost shale oil and gas drilling will bring.

"But I'm also for a good, clean environment," he said. "And if regulations are put into effect, we need to enforce them. I want companies to make this industry safe enough that they would be willing to raise their own children here, from the CEOs on down."

Richter said the technology exists to make use of the natural gas mined from shale to power vehicles, homes and businesses with zero harmful emissions to the environment.

He said the shale oil and gas industry is bringing good jobs and income to this area, and is too good an opportunity for the state to miss.

"I understand half of the jobs will be accessible for undergraduates, including welders, backhoe operators, laborers and others," Richter said. "And this industry will benefit hotels, restaurants, and many other businesses."

If a severance tax is needed, he said it should be very small.

"I'm not in favor of a tax, but if it comes about it should be put 100 percent toward policing and inspections of the shale industry-not just put into the general fund," Richter said.

Republican Shane Thompson of St. Clairsville is seeking the 30th District seat in the Ohio Senate.

Thompson said the district includes Carroll County, a state hub of shale oil and gas drilling activity.

"When I see the benefits just in the short term with the jobs and wealth created, I can get very excited about this development," he said. "But in the macro picture this is a good source of the energy independence America needs."

Thompson noted there has been hydraulic fracturing mining activity in Ohio since the 1950s, so the process is not new and regulations are already in place for the industry.

"There's also a lot of data to look at from shale oil and gas sites across the country, and I don't see any areas of great concern, and the industry is always working toward more responsible practices," he said. "I think Ohio has to change its competitive position for business and jobs. We don't want to add regulations just for regulation sake. They have to make sense."

Thompson said he wants the shale oil and gas exploration and development to be able to yield its expected full potential for Ohio.

"It's been a long time since we've had an economic home run in this state," he said.

On Governor Kasich's tax proposal, Thompson said it's a bad idea at this time.

"If the governor wants to lower the state income tax, I think that's great, but at this point increasing the severance tax on these companies is a bad idea," he said. "I think it's sending a negative message to the oil and gas industry."

Ohio Senator Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville, is seeking another term of office in the 30th Senate district.

Gentile believes most people in the district are like-minded about the uptick in Ohio's oil and gas industry.

"They welcome any opportunity for jobs and wealth in the community," he said. "And my top priority has been to keep that money in the local communities."

Gentile said he's a little at odds with Governor Kasich's severance tax proposal because, depending on how a lease is written, the tax could come back on the property owner instead of the company. And that money could be used to fund a tax cut for wealthy people in other areas of the state.

"Why should we fund a tax cut for some millionaire who lives in New Albany?" he asked.

Gentile said he recently visited Carroll County where shale oil and gas drilling is already generating some prosperity.

"And we're looking at legislation that could provide incentives for some landowners who are gaining large amounts of money from the oil and gas boom to invest back into their communities," he said. "We're still fleshing it out, but this could be done through tax credits or some other type of incentives."

Gentile said his Ohio Workers First amendment to Senate Bill 315, passed this year, received bipartisan support. The amendment helps track how many Ohio workers, contractors and businesses benefit from the increased oil and gas industry activity.

"One concern I've heard is for out-of-state workers coming in with the industry, but we want to make sure Ohio workers are being involved, too," he said.

Gentile would like to see more disclosure about the chemicals that are mixed with water and used in the hydraulic fracturing process.

"It's important that we have adequate disclosure about what's going into these wells," he said. "There needs to be plenty of oversight of those chemicals. I'm especially concerned for firefighters and other first responders if there's a spill."

The state should also place a cap on the amount of water that can be withdrawn from Ohio streams and lakes to use in the hydraulic fracturing process during certain times of the year, Gentile said, noting that less water should be drawn during seasons of drought.

"It takes millions of gallons of water for the fracking process," he said. "There are some lakes and streams that can handle that kind of withdrawal, but there are others that can't. I think the industry would welcome that discussion, too."

Gentile said his top issues are to protect the state's ground water, make sure Ohio landowners are not taken advantage of, and for the state to work with oil and gas companies to make sure roads and other infrastructure are maintained.

"I'm not against oil and gas development, but I work for the people of my district and want to make sure that Southeast Ohio and Washington County gets some benefit from this activity," he said.

 
 
 

 

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