Utica offers promise, speakers at event say

YOUNGSTOWN – With nearly 75 percent of the planned $730 million in local economic development investments coming from the oil and natural gas industry, optimism was high from officials at a Utica Shale event held Wednesday in Mill Creek MetroParks.

The head of one local oil and gas construction company who spoke at the event went out of his way to explain why he believes last month’s media reports that the Utica Shale Play is a “bust” came way too early to predict the play’s future.

Also speaking was a representative of the latest natural gas industry company to announce plans to locate in the Mahoning Valley. Energy supplier IGS will invest about $2.5 million into construction of a new compressed natural gas fueling station in Girard.

“There’s a lot of things going on. It’s really exciting. There’s promise in our community again,” said Sarah Boyarko, the Regional Chamber’s vice president for economic development. Boyarko said so far in 2013, $467 million have been invested in local economic development projects. That brought 71 new jobs and $3.4 million in new payroll, she said.

Still pending is $730 million in investments that could bring more than 1,250 new jobs with $46 million in payroll, Boyarko said. Chamber officials involved in the projects said they are hoping these projects come to fruition in the next 12 to 24 months.

Nearly 300 people from the oil and natural gas industry along with local business people hoping to network with them turned out Wednesday for either the morning speaker session or the afternoon golf outing coordinated by the Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Success of Wednesday’s event was compared by one official to the mounting excitement about local growth.

Prior to retooling the annual golf outing to include an oil and natural gas focus, attendance barely reached enough to fill spots on 18 holes. Wednesday’s event garnered enough interest to put two foursomes on each of 36 golf holes.

Chris Jaskiewicz, president of Girard-based VEC Inc. and eVets Oil and Gas Construction, which sponsored Wednesday’s event, disputed national media reports critical of the shale play’s future after 2012 Utica Shale production reports were released.

Jaskiewicz pointed out that statistics show that 700 horizontal Utica Shale wells in Ohio are expected to produce as much as 43,000 traditional natural gas wells.

And the need for industry jobs, he said, will grow by leaps and bounds. That’s because 50 percent of the expert work force in the industry will be retiring in the next three to five years, leaving the average age of industry workers at about 35 years old.

“We can hire individuals who don’t bring that much experience to the table – as long as they bring an intelligent, open mind,” Jaskiewicz said.

Chris Kraft, CNG Business Development Specialist for the IGS Energy arm of Dublin-based CNG Services, said there are three reasons why customers are making the switch from gasoline to natural gas-powered vehicles: lower retail costs; cleaner burning fuel and it’s domestic.

“Think about filling up the car or truck with fuel that is produced right here in Ohio,” Kraft said.