STEUBENVILLE - It started with a trickle and then there was a flood of deed researchers who began pouring into the Jefferson County recorder's office on a daily basis.
County Recorder Paul McKeegan said the number of workers researching mineral rights has grown daily since the spring, with about 40 to 50 in his office now on any given day.
The deed researchers are doing the background work that eventually will lead to a lease for gas rights.
It has been elbow to elbow in the Jefferson County recorder’s office for the past several months as deed researchers check on properties for development of leases for gas drilling in the county. About 5,000 such leases have been filed so far in the recorder’s office, with more to follow. - Mark Law
McKeegan said about 5,000 leases have been filed in the recorder's office, with thousands more in the works.
The recorder's office routinely has been getting batches of as many as 300 leases at a time.
"They come in spurts. We don't get them every day, but, when they do come in, there is a lot," he said.
Once the leases are completed, some of the deed researchers will remain at the recorder's office working on easements needed for construction of the gas drilling rigs and pipelines needed to get the gas to market, McKeegan said.
The recorder's office is organized chaos. People line up to use one of the two copiers in the office or to view documents on the microfilm readers.
Nearly all the counter space is used in the office with deed researchers pulling out large docket books to check mineral rights.
McKeegan said the office used to make about 100 copies a day.
The number has jumped to at least a thousand, he said.
There are only three recorder's office employees who are now helping 40 to 50 deed researchers a day, in addition to the regular attorneys and title companies doing research for property transfers.
"I have a fantastic staff. I get more compliments on the staff trying to accommodate everyone," McKeegan said.
McKeegan said the county has realized some additional revenue from the work done in preparing the leases and from the lease filing fee.
He said the average filing fee for a lease is about $36, and the office is charging the deed workers 50 cents a page for making copies.
He said the office has generated more than $200,000 in revenue so far this year.
There was a time during the summer when dozens of deed researchers were sitting on the floor of the first floor hallway in the courthouse, with laptop computers.
The county commissioners decided to use the hallway of the basement, and tables and chairs were brought in for the workers to use.
The county's data processing department installed public Wi-Fi on the first floor for the deed researchers to use with their computers.
McKeegan said the recorder's office was taken by surprise by the number of deed researchers.
"When everyone first started talking about the gas drilling, I never thought it would get to this. I'm glad for the people of Jefferson County to have this opportunity. Hopefully, it will bring some jobs to the area. A lot of people will be getting money they didn't know was coming - a lot of farmers," he said.
Jefferson County Commissioner Tom Gentile said it was the Marcellus shale gas that first started the interest in Jefferson County.
He said the Utica shale oil and gas, which is far more profitable, now is the focus in the county.
"If you look at where the Utica and Marcellus come together, Jefferson County is at the intersection. All of the early sonic testing has shown a tremendous resource," he said.
Gentile said the leases for the gas and oil drilling are starting to come in.
He added there are four to five companies that are very active in the county, with several wells already under construction or in production.
"Ultimately, it will be a very good thing for the county. If you look at other areas (that are further along with the gas drilling), it revitalized them economically," Gentile said.
The county may be a couple years away from realizing royalty revenue from the gas drilling, said Lewis "Dobie" Piergallini, chief deputy auditor for the real estate division.
The state will determine the value of the oil and gas and the drilling companies will have to self-report production at wells during a calendar year, Piergallini said.
The company has until May of the following year to give the county a production amount, he said.
The county then will send a bill to the company the following year.
He said the county will be about two years behind in collecting the royalty tax revenue.
But Piergallini said he has no idea how much revenue the county will receive in royalty taxes once production really ramps up in the county.