Columbiana County keeps eye on shale play

COLUMBIANA – Columbiana County Commissioner Tim Weigle is keeping his eyes on the state’s severance tax legislation and a bird’s eye view on the Utica Shale development under way in the county.

The aviator has watched the development unfold while traveling across Columbiana and surrounding counties on his own flights, and provided aerial pictures of that development during a recent presentation in the city.

Weigle told the Fairfield Ruritans at last week’s meeting that to date there are 84 well pads in Columbiana County alone, with 35 horizontal wells already drilled and that figure is changing on a weekly basis, he said.

There are 10 oil and gas companies drilling in the county, although Chesapeake Energy is the most known due to the large amount of leases it holds, and there are 12 wells currently producing, he added.

The companies also have 89 road use maintenance agreements for county and township roads. Agreements are not required for state roads.

“Some townships have had good experiences with RUMAs; some haven’t,” he said. “We are very fortunate some of those roads have been upgraded.”

He later said he was not aware of any municipality in the county except possibly Middleton Township denying companies an agreement, but township Fiscal Officer Bob Chapman said a RUMA was not denied but canceled by Chesapeake and the township jointly.

The RUMA was for Carmel Achor East, the first road targeted by Chesapeake in the county for the transportation of water from local drilling sites into Pennsylvania.

There is currently about a five-acre water impoundment site in the township along Vale Road which Weigle said is being used in the hydraulic fracturing process.

It takes about three million to five million gallons of water to frack one well, and the process is under way by Haliburton at the Mellinger well site in Fairfield Township, he said.

The water is mixed with sand and other material for drilling, and the flowback is hauled away to disposal sites. Sometimes, the flowback is radioactive.

“We have ran into some issues here in Ohio with radiation levels,” Weigle said.

Radiation levels at landfills are overseen by the state Environmental Protection Agency and the cases in which flowback exceeded the proper levels was mostly in southern Harrison County, he said.

“Those radiation levels have been too high and we can hardly accept that in Ohio. Some of that is going across the border to West Virginia,” he said, noting the Mountaineer state does not have those requirements.

Flowback or slurry is transported to solid waste landfills and not construction, demolition and debris landfills, or regular treatment plants, he added.

He said no injection wells are permitted in Columbiana County at this point, although they do exist in neighboring Mahoning County.

Benefits of the industry according to Weigle are economic growth and job creation, increased tax revenue for local governments, public schools and other entities and better chances for grant funding as a result.

Some county officials are hoping the recent Columbiana County Port Authority’s sale of the former Youngstown and Southern railroad will lead to the development of a gas processing plant in Middleton Township or Pennsylvania, he said.