ST. CLAIRSVILLE - In her effort to turn Belmont County into the "epicenter" of the Marcellus and Utica shale drilling boom, Commissioner Ginny Favede succeeded for at least one day with the Ohio Valley Regional Oil & Gas Expo.
"We are doing everything we can to take advantage of the opportunity the oil and gas industry presents us," she said Wednesday during the event at the Belmont County Fairgrounds at the James E. Carnes Center, just west of St. Clairsville. "This is simply an amazing turnout."
Among the 180 vendors with booths at the event - which drew hundreds of drillers, frackers, pumpers, abstractors, bankers and equipment providers to the fairgrounds from at least as far away as Fredericktown, Ohio, and Monroeville, Pa. - were representatives from Exxon Mobil subsidiary XTO Energy. Karen Matusic, government relations manager for XTO, said her company plans to begin drilling in Belmont County this summer.
"I detect a real sense of entrepreneurship here today," said Matusic regarding the expo, noting she is struck by the friendliness of those living in the Upper Ohio Valley. "They have given us a signal that this is a good place to do business."
Matusic and Ginny Markley, regional land manager for XTO, said they enjoyed getting to make contact with some businesses with which their company may cooperate, as well as meeting some landowners who have signed leases with the company. XTO has tens of thousands of Belmont County acres under lease, with some property owners signing for deals in the range of $4,950 per acre with 19 percent royalty payments. Matusic and Markley also noted Phillips Exploration leases are now under the XTO banner, as well.
Chesapeake Energy, the local area's largest active driller, also had representatives on hand Wednesday. The company is in the process of building field offices at the nearby Fox Commerce Park.
"It has been a pretty productive event," said Chesapeake spokesman Pete Kenworthy. "We have been able to provide good information to those we have talked to."
Favede said the main goal of the expo was to connect some of the drilling companies with potential vendors and related businesses, with the hope the local economy will prosper because of the influx of the shale business.
Representatives of the Ohio Valley Oil and Gas Association said they also found the expo productive. The recently formed nonprofit organization now consists of 80 local businesses that are looking to grow and prosper from the drilling boom. The group defines itself as "committed to education, networking and business development in the oil and gas industry."
"We saw this as a way to help our local businesses position themselves to serve as vendors for the drillers," said association member Michael Goclan. "We feel this is a great opportunity for this area, and want to help our members get as much business as they can from it."
Mike Cockrell, owner of Mid-Ohio Pump in Fredericktown, Ohio, showcased a pump that transfers water from a source to fracking sites. He said the event was very informative.
Also on hand was Deborah S. Hoffman, financial consultant for First National Investment Services Co. She said many people signing leases do not understand they have to pay taxes on their payments.
"There are a lot of money management issues involved in this," she said. "We have definitely seen an increase in business because of the Marcellus and Utica shale."
Other vendors on site for the event included United Bank, the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, Nicolozakes Trucking and Construction, Hughes Xerographic, Hays Landscape Architecture Studio, Environmental Service Laboratories Inc. and Bridgeport Equipment & Tool.
Favede said the expo - which she hopes will be the first of several similar events to be held at the new fairgrounds - shows the potential of the site. She also said the Carnes Center will be home to the Ohio Valley Regional Oil & Gas Career Expo on June 20.
"This will be a job fair that we hope will give people an opportunity to connect with companies for possible employment in this industry," she added.