Oil, gas firms help area schools

Oil and gas companies targeting resources in the Utica shale aren’t just looking at digging into the local ground but fitting in with the community.

Representatives of Antero Resources on Tuesday presented a check for $2,500 to the Marietta High School athletic department, as it did last week to five high schools in Monroe and Noble counties.

“Any areas that Antero’s active in, we try to reach out to the community, and we find that a good way to do that is to start with the high school athletic departments,” said Randall Randolph, supervisor for land surface operations with Antero.

Stephanie Ware, office manager for Antero’s local site, said the company has active sites in Monroe and Noble counties and chose Marietta because the Colorado-based company’s local activities are based out of the Broughton complex on Ohio 821.

“We want to be a part of the team,” she said. “We want to let them know we’re not just here to make money for ourselves.”

Marietta athletic director Rick Guimond said the school is still considering how it will use the money.

“This was a very pleasant surprise, and we’re very appreciative of this type of support in our community,” he said.

While local officials have been optimistic about the long-term economic impact of the shale boom, schools and other organizations have started to see smaller, more immediate impacts. Contributing to these entities seems to be part of the playbook for many companies as they set up shop in an area.

“This is actually a common occurrence with the oil and gas industry,” said Shawn Bennett, with Energy In Depth, a research, education and public outreach campaign launched by the Independent Petroleum Association of America. “It’s giving back … to the community where they’re operating.”

PDC Energy, which opened an office in Marietta this year, introduced itself to the Wolf Creek Local school district in May with a $5,000 donation for improvements at the Waterford High School baseball field.

“It means a great deal,” Wolf Creek Superintendent Bob Caldwell said this week. “It’s general fund money that you don’t have to spend, and you can sometimes accomplish things you couldn’t otherwise.”

As much as the economic benefits of the shale exploration have been touted, concerns about the potential environmental impact of the hydraulic fracturing process used to access minerals in the deep-underground formations have been front and center. Although industry experts say the process is safe when done properly, there have been calls for more research and expanded oversight. While some might dismiss the companies’ donations as an attempt to garner goodwill and gloss over such issues, Bennett said that isn’t the case.

“It’s to really better the students – and make better employees for them down the road,” he said.

And donations to local emergency services, as CONSOL Energy did with three Noble County fire departments during a back-to-school celebration in August, is an acknowledgment that they might one day need their services, Bennett said.

Caldwell High School Principal Devvon Dettra noted CONSOL has also offered to provide guest speakers to discuss careers in the industry.

“The oil and gas companies have been great” for the school and the community, he said. “They’ve offered to help in the classroom.”

CONSOL previously contributed financially to the high school art department’s Art in the Square program, and Caldwell is one of five area high schools – along with Shenandoah, Beallsville, Monroe Central and River – competing in the company’s Power Up program. People can log on to www.consolenergy.com/PowerUp and register to vote for the school that will be awarded $10,000 in May.

“They’ve said we could use it however we wanted,” Dettra said.

Marietta Superintendent Harry Fleming said schools appreciate contributions from local businesses, both new arrivals like Antero and longtime companies.

“The money is probably secondary to the support that that shows for the school districts,” he said.

While new companies may be making the donations as they move in, the oil and gas industry has long been a contributor to Ohio communities, said Rhonda Reda, executive director of the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program. That nonprofit organization, founded in 1998 by oil and gas producers, including Jerry James with Marietta-based Artex Oil, provides teacher workshops, scholarships, firefighter training, industry training and more.

“We’re funded 100 percent by the oil and gas producers,” Reda said.

OOGEEP recently played host to a workshop for kindergarten-through-12th-grade teachers at Marietta College to help them tie what’s going on in the industry into their curriculum. It included a visit to a horizontal well site in Lowell.