Halleck gets his say

LISBON -Columbiana County Commissioner Mike Halleck made it to Congress nearly 11 years after having run for a seat in the U.S. House.

Halleck testified Tuesday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on what the shale gas boom has meant to the county. Halleck briefed his colleagues on Wednesday, explaining he had been invited to speak before the committee by U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, whose 6th District includes the county.

“It was an interesting experience and certainly an honor to be asked,” he said.

The purpose of the hearing was to discuss the pros and cons of exporting natural gas, with Halleck and the other five witnesses given five minutes each to make an opening statement before taking questions. The other witnesses were experts in an energy or environmental field.

In his opening statement, Halleck spoke about the money being spent by drilling companies and businesses that are building multi-million dollar plants to process the gas and move it to market. He also mentioned the new plant built in Mahoning County to manufacture pipe for drilling companies.

Halleck said local governments have benefited in the form of additional revenue and in producing well-paying jobs for people interested in taking up one of the related trades.

“It’s certainly been a game-changer for our area … and for first time in years we’re (county government) not struggling,” he said, in response to question from the congressional panel.

Halleck also told the panel property owners have benefited from the lease money and royalties, although only about five wells are currently producing. “I’ve been told we have 200 new millionaires just in our county,” he added.

As for exporting natural gas, Halleck believes this would stabilize prices and keep the gas flowing. Otherwise prices could continue to plunge to where drilling companies might “turn off the spigot” to get prices to increase, halting the economic progress in eastern Ohio.

Congressman Johnson tried to impress on his colleagues the significance of what the shale gas boom means to his district. “What is happening in oil and gas in our region is a big deal to our people,” he said.

The hearing last nearly 2-1/2 hours.

Halleck was the Republican nominee for the 6th Congressional District in 2002, losing to Democrat Ted Strickland, who went on to serve two terms before being elected governor in 2006.

Although he has visited the U.S. Capitol over the years to meet with federal officials, this was the first time Halleck ever testified.