I spent a few hours at the Farm Science Review at Ohio State University’s Molly Caren Agricultural Center in London last week. Along with OFU President Roger Wise and OFU Executive Director Linda Borton, I attended a panel discussion put on by four OSU faculty members whose research and teaching revolve around rural economics, development and environmental issues. I hope to post, in this space soon, the entirety of the panel discussion after I get a few audio things fixed with the recording.
After the panel, I asked OSU Assistant Prof. Mike Lloyd who is based in Noble County as part of the OSU Extension Service. Lloyd has seen the natural gas boom begin in Ohio with an increase in mineral rights lease activity. Since he and others knew the gas rush was coming, he has also observed what has happened on the other side of the border in Pennsylvania and has spent time talking to local officials there about the economic impacts of the gas industry. Lloyd has also been providing some educational opportunities for eastern Ohio landowners on what to expect from the process of negotiating mineral rights on their land.
Perhaps I should explain the headline on this post … Lloyd and the other OSU professors played it down the middle in their presentations on the panel. There was dispassionate discussion of the wonders of modern drilling technology and representations of the gas industry’s point of view that the hydraulic fracturing process to be used in Ohio – also known as ‘fracking’ – is safe and poses no threats to the land or water that the industry can’t handle.
Along with the gas industry talking points, there were also some disturbing points made. For instance, despite Gov. John Kasich’s claim that 200,000 jobs stand to be created in a super-charged Ohio gas industry, one of the panelists noted that many of the best jobs “created” in Pennsylvania’s gas fields were filled by drilling company workers imported from oil patch states like Texas and Oklahoma. The reason? Midwestern workers don’t want to work 14 days on and 14 days off at 14-hour days while they are “on.” Seems rather incredible. What I wonder if it’s just easier for the oil and gas companies to import workers who are already proficient in drilling site work. Importing out of state workers may also be a “tell” that this economic activity, which has been described as a ‘boom,’ will be just that – a few years or so of frenetic activity followed by a rapid decline.
Lloyd describes some of the unintended consequences of drilling in Pennsylvania – that’s what prompts the headline above. As farmers, rural landowners and local officials decide whether or not to work closely with the natural gas industry, perhaps it’s important to balance out the cheerleaders in Columbus about what this all means in the long run.