Ohio looks for stability in gas-related development

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Most people wouldn’t classify a Louisiana-based chemical company spurning Belmont County as a potential site for a new plant as good economic news, but Matt Cybulski didn’t have to look far to take a positive from that experience last year.

Just the fact that the company was willing to travel 1,000 miles to look at land in Eastern Ohio, he said, was a sign that good things are on the way for the region as the oil and gas industry continues to grow.

“While we didn’t win the project, they told us that two or three years ago they never would have even looked at our region,” said Cybulski, project manager for JobsOhio, while speaking during Wednesday’s second-annual Ohio Valley Regional Oil and Gas Expo at the James E. Carnes Center in St. Clairsville.

Cybulski said JobsOhio – the nonprofit corporation created from Gov. John Kasich’s plan to turn the former state Department of Development into a public-private partnership – works to attract new businesses to the Buckeye State and help existing ones expand in a variety of ways, including assisting them with site selection, making connections with work force and higher education resources and offering a limited amount of tax incentives.

As the Marcellus and Utica shales continue to transform the region, Cybulski said JobsOhio wants to attract stable jobs that pay high wages

“I grew up in Steubenville. I know how hard this area’s been hit with job loss over the last 30 years. … This is a great area with a lot of hard-working people,” he said.

The various stages of oil and gas production are grouped into three basic sectors: “Upstream,” which includes exploration and production; “midstream,” which includes transportation and storage; and “downstream,” which encompasses the various industries that make use of oil and gas and their byproducts, including gasoline, lubricants, chemicals, rubber and plastics. With companies such as Chesapeake, MarkWest, Consol, Dominion and Caiman Energy – just to name a few – already investing billions in the upstream and midstream sectors of the industry, JobsOhio is now turning its eyes to the downstream businesses.

“Some of the gas is going to be shipped out of state just because of the demand. … We don’t want to see all this stuff going to the Gulf of Mexico,” Cybulski said.

Touching on the tremendous growth of the gas industry in Ohio over the last year, Cybulski said there now have been 596 horizontal well permits issued and 293 wells drilled in a 21-county area of Eastern Ohio – more than 70 percent of those in Jefferson, Harrison, Columbiana and Carroll counties alone. At last count, there were 81 producing wells, he added.

Wednesday’s expo saw more than 160 exhibitors on hand, representing construction, vehicle sales, real estate, marketing and web design, communication, financial institutions, cleaning and just about any support service the gas industry requires. Belmont County Port Authority Director Larry Merry estimated more than 2,000 people visited the event throughout the day.

In addition to Cybulski, the program featured seminars from Rice Energy President Toby Rice, who discussed his company’s growth in the Ohio Valley; Jerrold Hutton of the Gaseous Fuels/Transportation Partnership on the future of natural gas-fueled vehicles; and Wayne Vanderhoof on safety, training, regulations and drug and alcohol policies.

Although the event is designed as a business-to-business networking opportunity, Merry said it also provides the public a chance to interact with industry people and learn more about what’s taking place around them.

“One of the big things I want is for the general public to be comfortable with what is happening,” he said of the local drilling activity. “That’s what we try to do at these events.”

One of the local businesses on hand Wednesday was Harvey Goodman Realtor. The influx of drillers and pipeliners has been a particular boon to the real estate industry, and broker John Sambuco said events like Wednesday’s expo are a great forum to meet all the players in the oil and gas industry.

“It’s our goal to just walk up to the exhibitors and ask them if there’s anything we can do to help them,” Sambuco said, noting the industry’s immediate demands include office space, warehouse space and acreage for pipeyards and other similar facilities, in addition to both short- and long-term housing for workers.

“For every job brought into the area, the national standard is there will be one home sold,” he added.

Other local companies on the exhibitor list included Alex E. Paris Contracting, H.E. Neumann, Kuester Implement, the Community Foundation for the Ohio Valley, the Wheeling Truck Center and Thomas Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram.