Injection in the economy

WARREN – As a fourth-generation businessman, 28-year-old Matt Kleese cut his teeth on the natural gas drilling and excavating business.

And after a slowdown that lasted several years for the company, new ways of accessing natural gas reserves locked deep below the earth’s surface in nearby Marcellus and Utica Shale Plays have begun to open new doors, not only for Kleese Development Association, but for company employees of long ago.

The Warren-based company that in past years operated shallow production wells and did some excavating, in recent months began converting some of those old wells to waste disposal wells used for permanent injection of contaminated water from the natural gas extraction process and other oil field waste. The process of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling has been good for business, Kleese says, and for the community.

The company this month applied to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for permission to convert an old production well on U.S. Route 422 near Templeton Road to a waste disposal well. If approved, the company would operate three injection wells at the property along with several others in Vienna. If the Warren Township well wins approval, Kleese said he expects to add another 10 or 12 labor positions

“I was the first Kleese in over four generations to buy two brand new trucks for the business. We have never been able to do that, and I bought them locally,” Kleese, company operations manager, said recently. “We are offering health benefits to our employees for their families and their kids. We do everything legitimately and pay a competitive wage.

“We had two employees before we started. We have 20 employees now and I just hired two more,” he said. Employees Kevin Kot and Marvin Ball were among those hired, or more accurately, rehired. The men, both in their 50s, had lost their jobs at Kleese years ago. After nearly a decade, the two were called back earlier this year.

“I left over 10 years ago when they notified me that they were going to have an auction and didn’t know what was going to happen,” Kot, 55, of Niles, said last week. Since then the truck driver and laborer bounced from job to job, trying to pay the bills and keep his family afloat.

Marvin Ball, 53, of Dorset in Ashtabula County likewise was laid off from the company about six years ago, he recalled last week.

“Things here really got slow and they just pretty much laid me off,” Ball said. He went to work in a couple area factories, but said he always hoped to someday return to Kleese, a family-owned company that he said always treated him well.

“I came back in the middle of May,” Ball said. “They are growing. It’s a growing process, and that’s a good thing.”

Kot, who had been away from Kleese for about a decade, said he never hesitated about returning.

“What they did from 10 years ago to last year, I don’t know too much about it, but when they started getting into the Marcellus and Utica, it’s booming and there’s a need for it. It’s great. Since I started in May we have hired three more drivers, several laborers and we have grown enormously,” Kot said.

The process isn’t without controversy, as concerns about environmental safety of injection well operations in general have gained steam. Still, Kleese remains confident in his company’s operations.

“We don’t do any kind of operation unless it’s 100 percent legitimate. Sometimes you do have accidents, but we have been very pleased. You have to handle things with care and you to do things the right way. We live here too. We love living here. We love the community,” Kleese said. “This has been a wonderful thing not only for the people who work for us, but also for the community. We are really moving forward, and we are doing it here.”