Oil and gas experts say there are still a lot of "ifs" to consider but there is also plenty of investment being made locally that indicates the area may be ripe to benefit from oil exploration and production.
Just one company already impacted by recent interest in oil and gas development in the region is Marietta's Iddings Truckings, manager Richard Gessel said Friday.
"I've never actually done the math ... Five, 10, 25... I'd say right now we've got about 45 people committed just to the gas drilling business," he said. "Most of those are all positions we've added over the past year."
BRAD BAUER The Marietta Times
A truck unloads frack sand Friday at the old Remington Rand industrial complex on Greene Street. The business, operated by Iddings Trucking, of Marietta, is linked to the oil and gas industry and has created at least 45 new jobs for the area over the past few years, according to company officials.
Gessel said the trucking company hauls and stores a specialty sand used in the drilling process.
"Like everyone, we took a significant downturn with the economy in 2008 and 2009," Gessel said. "Some of those jobs that were created were ones where we rolled over someone from another position that prevented a layoff."
Ronda Reda, executive director of Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program, said she expects southeast Ohio to see tremendous opportunity if oil and gas development takes off as expected. Already, several major oil companies have begun acquiring the rights to land in the area for exploration.
"If the production is there like we expect, you're talking about wells that could be producing for the next 40 to 50 years," Reda said. "That means there will be jobs at production sites, laying pipeline and maintaining pipeline, marketing the product, the legal work that follows ... The drilling is short term but virtually every other job and every aspect of the local economy could see tremendous growth."
There has already been growth in the number of visitors to Marietta.
Marietta City Council reported in July that the city has benefited from an increase in the local hotel/motel bed tax during the first half of 2011. Collection for the first six months of this year was $115,882, up about $3,000.
Councilman David White said oil and gas workers visiting the area is a likely reason for the uptick.
"There's no hard evidence but we did discuss that as a likely source," he said. "We're hearing there are lots of those people filling up our hotels and reviewing court records or talking with local business or landowners."
Reda's association is expected to release a detailed report Tuesday in Columbus outlining the possible economic impact for each of Ohio's counties. She declined to provide any specifics about the 10-month before Tuesday.
The oil and gas industry got its start in the Marietta area more than 100 years ago and Reda and other industry experts say new drilling techniques could unlock huge oil and gas deposits believed to be stored in formations under much of the Appalachian basin, including Washington County.
In addition to jobs, the potential benefits to the local economy may also include lease and royalty money to landowners, many of whom have already been contacted about leasing opportunities.
Ted Hoffert, 51, and Nora Henry, 50, of New Haven, W.Va., were at the Washington County Courthouse on Friday attempting to learn more about mineral rights to 15 acres of land they hoped to buy in northern Washington County.
"Right now, it's a possible investment but it could turn into a place we vacation or where we eventually move," he said. "There's a (gas or oil) well right on a neighboring property but nothing on this property. I'd like to know if anything's there and who has the rights to it."
Lease offers in the area have ranged from $1,000 to $2,000 per acre, plus a percentage of royalties if wells are developed and they produce.
"There was a time I'd be happy with free gas," Hoffert said. "I'm kind of green and don't know how I feel about (major gas exploration) but anymore it's hard to turn down money if it's there."
Brad Davis, senior vice president of Magnum Hunter, parent company of Reno-based Triad Hunter, said there is nothing but good news coming for southeast Ohio.
"This is our take: If you want to be producing natural gas going forward, the best place anywhere is the Appalachian basin," he said. "The reason is the supply and how it is situated to the market in the northeast for commercial use and home heating."
Triad Hunter owns leasing rights to approximately 60,000 acres in northwest West Virginia and southeast Ohio, Davis said.
"It's going to be extremely hard to be producing gas in any other region and compete with what will be available in the Appalachian basin," he said. "It's going to mean a lot of opportunity for communities in those areas."
Davis said he anticipates 10 years of drilling followed by years of well maintenance and piping work.
"From production jobs to machine shops to pipelines to trucking, there will be a need for jobs," he said. "And what the petroleum industry has shown in the past and I would expect to continue is that these are all generally high paying jobs."
Triad currently has about 170 employees in the region, Davis said.
Tom Stewart, executive vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, said the Marcellus Shale formation, which skirts eastern Ohio and runs though parts of West Virginia, most of Pennsylvania and western New York, is time tested and proven. The Utica Shale formation, which is likely to be more of a player in Washington County, is unproven.
While the Marcellus formation has produced mainly natural gas, some believe the Utica could produce oil and gas, Stewart said.
"Some estimates are that the Utica has the potential to produce five billion barrels of oil," he said. "That's a significant world-class oil field if it's true and we can tap into it.
"A lot of this all remains to be seen but I would expect in the next year, we'll know a lot more," he said.
Stewart said there is a reason people are interested in leasing land locally.
"From the investments being made, it tells me the scientists and the well capitalized companies believe it's here, so we just have to wait and find out," he said.
Marietta College petroleum engineering major Christian Sevens, 19, of Houston, Texas, said the potential boom in the area is exciting.
"I'm just thinking about the potential job opportunities," he said. "Right now most of the jobs in this field in the U.S. are down in Texas and Louisiana but it would be great to have a whole industry develop again around here."