STEUBENVILLE - The 15-members of Jefferson County's Oil and Gas Committee already have reached a consensus: They say the single most pressing issue facing the community as oil and gas drilling moves into high gear will be communications between public officials, emergency responders, the drilling industry and even area residents.
"You probably could have predicted that to be one of the major concerns and problems," county Commissioner Dave Maple said. "But it was interesting to see how (everybody) had it as a strong theme."
Committee members voiced concern that emergency responders have the information they need to safely and effectively respond to drilling calls and that they're kept in the loop when drilling companies are planning extraordinary operations, such as offloading oversized equipment along school bus routes.
Jefferson County 911 Director Rob Herrington discussed the need for open lines of communication between local government, emergency responders and the drilling community during a recent oil and gas committee meeting at the Pugliese Center. (Linda Harris)
"From the time a company arrives here to set up a well site, it's important that we have basically all the information about that particular project and disseminate it to the right people the county engineer, 911, the different townships and trustees," said Jefferson County 911 Director Rob Herrington. "Everyone needs to have the same information. You run into problems when you don't all have the same contact information, the same plans for a site."
Herrington said communication always is important between government and private business, "but there's not always a special point of contact established for a project. In this case, because it's something that is going to be so much a part of our lives, I think it's just important to get a handle on it now, rather than have to backtrack (later)."
So far the committee has met only two times. At the first meeting, they were asked to think about the issues they see developing as a result of the drilling industry's interest in Ohio. At the second meeting they were asked to prioritize them deciding, in particular, which would require the least effort but would have the biggest impact.
Also high on the committee's list: How shale will affect the work force, safety issues, educating the community, drilling's impact on the environment and even how the shale boom might strain community health care resources.
Maple said as commissioners, "we knew this issue was coming at us pretty quickly. We'd heard from people in communities that have already gone through this that it's really difficult to have a community prepared for the growth, the positives and sometimes the negatives, that will come out of this." He said the committee's efforts can have far-reaching effects on the community and its residents.
"Just having the committee does not mean we'll be completely prepared for what we run into," Maple said. "But, hopefully, it will make us better prepared for the opportunities and the challenges that are associated with this industry."
He said they anticipate the committee continuing to meet once a month for the next year, though even that is subject to change.
"This is a long, long voyage we're on,"he added. "Right now, we're just looking at the things we can get done quickly."