Enter Utica: The Fracking Industry Really Loves Ohio; Here's What's on Tap for All of Us

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But these aren't white-collar gigs. The Ohio Oil and Gas Association's claims that eastern Ohio job growth leapt more than 50 percent over the past year don't account for the transient nature of most of the jobs. Neither the out-of-state drillers and truck drivers setting up camp in Carroll County, for instance, where there are more than 400 active horizontal wells, nor the waitresses and concierges working at diners and hotels to accommodate the influx, will likely have jobs when the wells run dry. (And no one seems to know when that will be: Some sources — BP, Forbes — put the Utica's remaining productive lifespan at under 20 years. Barry Davis and midstream execs were throwing out lofty numbers in the 40- to 80-year range.)

Feel free to have a look at the coal mining boom towns all over West Virginia and southern Ohio to gauge whether or not the fracking boom will have an enduring economic impact.

In theory, that should ruffle the feathers of Ohio's Department of Natural Resources. But they've done little but encourage expansion, racking up dollars themselves as they issue drilling permits without much discretion across the state. (Since the second quarter of 2011, ODNR has issued 1,743 of them.)

Then there's the propaganda: In the summer of 2012, ODNR circulated a 13-page internal memo that outlined specific and general measures to support fracking in Ohio. (This is the opposite of what a regulatory government agency should be doing). Using "precise messaging and coordination," the ODNR planned on combating "zealous resistance by environmental-activist opponents who are skilled propagandists," making their work sound more like Cold War-type paranoia than natural resources oversight. The department used language like "allied audiences," "neutral audiences" and "opposition groups and forums." Northeast Ohio's own State Rep. Nickie Antonio found herself on the bad list; Halliburton was listed as a friend.

But look: Halliburton employs 80,000 people worldwide. And if Ohio can grow (or steal, as the case may be) any of those jobs, that's a net positive for the region, development folks would say. Those are numbers. Those are some of 146,000 that they'll need over the next five years to validate their projections.

And that's part of the problem. "Jobs" are being viewed as data points, independent of the people who actually work them. The new "regional economic competitiveness strategy" seeks to "accelerate the pace of job creation," by 50 percent, and, again, it aims to do that by "going big."

So forget about startups or enterprising alternative energy companies. Forget about the non-profits with 10 to 20 employees with a stake in the region, companies that may to do cool things here but don't have all the resources. Instead, "go big," facilitate and incentivise the increased growth of existing goliaths, companies that contribute millions every year to political campaigns to ensure that policy continues to go their way, companies that have zero compunction about laying off every last locally grown job if the profit margins told them to do so.

These are the sort of companies that call John Kasich a liberal democrat because he wants to raise the severance tax for fracking operators. His current budget proposal notches a 236-percent increase — from 2.75 percent to 6.5 percent. Industry mouthpieces are not pleased: "Karl Marx would be proud," read an op-ed in Marcellus Drilling News earlier this month.

The drilling is under way. What comes now is a massive coordinated effort to get this gas out of here. Trucks. Trains. Pipelines. A spiderweb of midstream infrastructure in Ohio.

***

Looking ahead, a growing litany of pipelines with neat-sounding names will begin to cross our region: NEXUS (proposed cost: $1.5 billion), Rover ($4.3 billion), Leach XPress ($1.75 billion), Mountain Valley ($3 billion) and so on.

NEXUS, for instance, a 42-inch pipeline proposed by Houston-based Spectra Energy Corp., will cruise through Summit, Medina and Lorain counties en route to export terminals in Canada (not even pausing to dump some of its fuel in Ohio for Buckeye State customers, mind you). The final route has not yet been finalized, but property owners from Kensington, Ohio, to Toledo have been contacted for land right-of-way and easement transactions. Unnamed and contracted "landmen" are presently negotiating terms with wary residents.

"What's happening in Medina County," local organizer Kathie Jones says, "the landmen come out — and they don't work for Spectra, they work for a private company. They come out and they threaten landowners, saying, 'You have to allow a land survey,' which they don't have to do, 'and if you don't, we're going to take your property through eminent domain.'" These unannounced pressure-cooker situations with landowners take place all along the pipeline's 250-mile route. Nevermind the fact that oil and gas leases typically and technically prompt a default on a homeowner's mortgage.

Public meetings hosted by Spectra took place as recently as mid-February in small towns along the suggested NEXUS route. Maps foretold a major pipeline project, free of real context and explanation. Splayed out on tables amid dozens of booths, the same well of conference trinkets was represented in fine form — Spectra-branded chip clips, et cetera.

Much like the drilling process itself, pipeline infrastructure comes with a wide net of environmental concerns. These are the concerns — these risks of leaks and explosions, groundwater contamination — that plague the midstream encroachment into Ohio and that most certainly do not make it onto the agenda of open house-style public meetings. These are the problems that thousands of Ohioans are working to avoid or even counteract.

Still, land negotiations are under way. Pending Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval, construction on the NEXUS pipeline is expected to begin in 2017.

Then, as now, the gold rush continues.

What Ohio is left to confront is the dissonance between its regulatory arm — the ODNR, aided and abetted by the state legislature — and the encroaching industry, regardless of benefits pitched to property owners or environmental threat. Without any real vetting of the process, and with billions of dollars in the crosshairs, this wealthiest industry in the world and all of its out-of-state executives are given carte blanche with our state. Ohio's leadership is publicly all too willing to lend its assistance.

Just this week, House Speaker Pro Tempore Ron Amstutz suggested that taxes and permit fees drawn from oil and gas drilling on state land — state-owned parks and nature preserves, of all places — could help offset Kasich's proposed income tax cuts.

When Ohio Supreme Court justices signalled their assent to state regulation, some wrote that it will ultimately fall to lawmakers to put the power of control back in local municipalities' hands. With words and actions like those of Amstutz and others, however, that doesn't appear to be happening anytime soon.

"[State code] not only gives ODNR 'sole and exclusive authority to regulate the permitting, location, and spacing of oil and gas wells and production operations' within Ohio; it explicitly reserves for the state, to the exclusion of local governments, the right to regulate 'all aspects' of the location, drilling, and operation of oil and gas wells, including 'permitting relating to those activities.'"

— Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judith French, Feb. 17, 2015

About The Authors

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...

Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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