VIENNA - A short drive to Salem starting today will set 1,954 owners of some 84,000 Trumbull County acres on a lifelong journey that is expected to take much of the Mahoning Valley's economy along for the ride.
BP Oil through Monday will sign leases with landowners for the right to drill into the natural gas and oil Utica / Point Pleasant shale formation, company officials said Monday night at a meet-and-greet event with county officials at Squaw Creek Country Club in Vienna.
Working through Salem-area Associated Landowners of the Ohio Valley, owners agreed late last month to lease land to BP for $3,900 an acre, plus 17.5 percent production royalties.
Bruce Abbuhl, standing left, manager of BP North America Gas’ Trumbull County drilling program, talks with county Assistant Prosecutor Bill Danso, seated left, county Recorder Diane Marchese, standing, and county Commissioner Paul Heltzel, seated right, during a social gathering Monday at Squaw Creek Country Club in Vienna.
The initial payouts, expected to be made over the next six months, are seen as the early stage of an economic boom that officials say could rival the area's steel industry of a century ago.
BP will have 40 workers handling the lease signings, which are expected to take roughly an hour each, according to company spokeswoman Lisa Houghton.
She noted the company has started an operations center in downtown Warren. The company's largest such center employs about 200 workers, not counting contract workers, she said.
BP will look to hire local people trained to study subsurfaces, do environmental assessments and water studies, she added.
"Everywhere we operate, it's about local employment and investment in the community," she said.
Bruce Abbuhl, a New Philadelphia native who manages BP's Ohio program and also is leasing land for drilling, said the company is in the "very early stages of developing a plan to safely recover oil and gas."
He said survey crews will be working in late summer or early fall, setting the stage for drilling to start in early 2013, although he said the company will try to start a little earlier if possible.
Abbuhl said the company "is very excited about the potential," but admitted it has little information until a few core sample wells are drilled.
Local officials expressed belief that BP will follow proper environmental and drilling procedures.
"If not for the protections of the leases we have, we'd be concerned. The lease protects ground and water," said Russell Banks, chairman of the Champion Zoning Board of Appeals and owner of R.D. Banks Chevrolet in Champion.
"This is a great shot in the arm for the economy," he said.
County Commissioner Paul Heltzel said all residents are concerned about the safety of the water supply, but said he believes BP will protect the supply.
He noted the county has an agreement that requires BP to maintain roads, adding he's heard of cases where the company puts in roads that are better than original roads.
About a dozen activists stood across state Route 193 protesting hydraulic fracturing and BP's role in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. They attempted to enter the gathering but were turned away in the lobby.