The coming oil and gas boom from hydraulic fracturing of the Marcellus and Utica shale deposits could spell big changes for communities in Washington and surrounding counties in southeast Ohio.
"Look at the growth going on in the Bakken shale region of North Dakota-they can't get enough people to fill all the jobs there-and that's basically what's going to happen here," said John Church of Bartlett, member of a Southern Ohio Energy Consultants, LLC, landowners group.
Recent Associated Press articles from North Dakota tout a booming economy fueled by oil and gas companies working in the state's Bakken shale beds. The population of small communities is doubling in that region, and even entry-level jobs at local eateries are paying $15 an hour.
"And the shale here is a much better resource than in North Dakota," Church said. "The volume of gas in the Utica shale can't be drawn off in just a few years. It will be a decades-long process."
But there's a downside to the sudden prosperity, too. The cost of living has increased in areas of North Dakota, and housing is at a premium. Single bedroom unfurnished apartments, for example, are renting for $1,500 a month, and builders can't keep up with the demand for new homes, according to a recent CNN report.
That's why Washington County and surrounding areas should be preparing now for what's just ahead, says Terry Tamburini, executive director of the Southeastern Ohio Port Authority.
"How do we handle the influx of people coming into the community? Will all of the local rental units be taken up? And how are we going to manage the financial resources that will be coming into these local counties?" he asked.
Tamburini noted local hotels and motels are already filled with people working in various capacities for the oil and gas industry.
"And there will be more coming," he said.
Tamburini said a properly-educated workforce is a top priority.
"Forget the economic benefits for now-one big concern is letting people know that opportunities lie ahead," he said. "Students at local colleges are seeing hope that they can actually make a contribution to society, not just survive after graduation."
As long as Marietta College and its petroleum engineering programs continue, as well as educational efforts at Washington State Community College and other local institutions, Washington County will remain a focus for the oil and gas industry, Tamburini said.
One way the local area can prepare for the coming activity is to make industrial locations available.
"We have to get the sites we currently have connected to rail," Tamburini said. "We're unique because of our access to the Ohio River, and we're getting requests for river sites with rail access."
He said CSX has expressed a willingness to look into that situation.
Although it was recently announced that Pennsylvania will be the location of a huge new cracker plant that will require hundreds of workers to process gases drawn from the region's shale beds, Tamburini said a similar facility could also be located in Ohio or West Virginia in the future.