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Even before the most recent recession, Carroll County in rural eastern Ohio was struggling. Employment prospects were sparse and young people were fleeing for opportunities elsewhere. Then came 2011 and arrival of the shale industry, giving the local economy an injection of jobs and the attendant financial benefits an influx of new business creates.
Though shale development has changed the county’s fortunes, the transformation from ghost town to boom town has been far from smooth, according to a study released in April by nonprofit research organization Policy Matters Ohio. Months after the study was made public, there are still lingering questions about whether the cultural, environmental and public health costs of fracking outweigh the economic benefits.
“This was a region struggling for a long time, so fracking has been a shot in the arm,” said Amanda Woodrum, report author and Policy Matters researcher. “But the story does not end there.”
Influx of Cash
The Carroll County study was part of a larger effort to determine the impact of shale development in four communities in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Policy Matters joined with other members of the Multi-State Shale Research Collaborative for the year-long venture.
Carroll County, which has half the state’s active fracking wells, is a decade newer to the shale energy game than its out-of-state contemporaries, said Woodrum. Still, about 95 percent of county sub-surface rights have already been bought or leased for potential use in domestic oil and gas production.
The signing bonuses that came with these land sales or leases—as high as $5,800 per acre—are being spent locally on farm property and equipment, the study says. Oil and gas companies are also purchasing supplies from businesses in Carrollton, the economic heart of the county, while company employees patronize local restaurants and bars. This activity has led to a 31 percent increase in sales tax receipts.
The inflow of cash came at a critical time for the region’s agriculture-based economy, said Carroll County commissioner Robert Wirkner.
“We had a number of farmers one step away from insolvency,” he said. “When the oil people came, the signing bonuses helped get them back on their feet.”
Increased sales tax revenues resulted in much-needed facility repairs, including a courthouse clock tower built in 1885. “We had been discussing removing the clock tower,” Wirkner said. “There was no money available to fix it.”
What About the Jobs?
General job trends in the county have been another positive indicator of economic activity, at least at first glance, Policy Matters researchers said. Unemployment is down to 8.3 percent from a recession-era high of 14 percent. However, in parsing these figures, Woodrum and her team discovered that shale gas drilling has not yet lived up to the jobs promised.
Fracking-related employment in Ohio has grown by about 3,000 jobs, less than one-tenth of one percent of the state’s total employment, said Woodrum. This number is far from Ohio Oil and Gas Associations claims that 40,000 new positions would be created by the industry.
In Carroll County, higher paying jobs related to oil and gas drilling, like construction of pipelines and processing plants, have been mostly going to out-of-state workers following their company’s drilling rig as it moves throughout the country. “Oil jobs are almost a new form of migrant labor,” said Woodrum.
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