Drilling activity in county could come out of hibernation
LISBON — Columbiana County commissioners are optimistic the gas development boom could resume as early as 2019 once area pipelines are in place to transport the product to market.
“When that infrastructure is in place things will pick up again,” predicted Commissioner Tim Weigle.
There are two major pipelines planned for Columbiana County that will transport natural gas from the collection and processing plant near Kensington. Once the pipelines are in place, drilling activity is expected to increase because companies will have a direct line to transport product to new markets.
Commissioner Mike Halleck cautioned that when activity resumes it will not be on the scale of the leasing frenzy of 2010-12, when developers entered into thousands of mineral rights leases with local property owners. Most leases were for five years and have already expired and few were renewed as drilling activity in the county slowed considerably due to the decline in oil and gas prices.
There is still significant drilling activity in the county — there are 81 wells that have been drilled to date and 65 are producing — but it is not on the scale envisioned five years ago.
Halleck said when leasing resumes it will not be like before. He believes it will not be as widespread and that developers will be more selective where they lease based on information gleaned from the first go-around.
Their comments came during last week’s meeting and during a question-and-answer session with about 20 people from the current class of Leadership Columbiana County, a leadership program for area workers from the private and public sector. Part of the program involves visiting other businesses and government agencies.
Halleck also addressed reports showing the county ended the year with a $2.8 million carryover balance, which would have reached $4.8 million had they not transferred $2 million from the general fund to an escrow account three weeks before. He said the balance would only be enough to run for less than three months.
“It seems like a lot of money, and it is a lot of money … but in terms of scale it’s not,” he said.
The county spends around $22 million or so a year, and Halleck noted most counties our size have budgets of $30 million or more. “Boards past and present have done a good job. We probably have the smallest staff in Ohio, I can probably guarantee you,” Halleck said, referring to the fact commissioners only have a staff of two.
Commissioners were asked about the U.S. Route 30 project, and Commissioner Jim Hoppel said the section from Trump Road in Stark County to East Canton is likely to be completed in the next couple years. Completing Route 30 through Columbiana County will take much longer because of the $900 million estimated price tag.
“It’s such a costly project, especially at this end, with all the hills, but we’re working on it,” Hoppel said.
Commissioners also estimated the opioid problem was costing the county more than $1 million in additional operating costs, mostly incurred because of the spike in inmates at the county jail due to the significant increase in drug arrests. Halleck said the county jail, which is licensed to house 192 inmates, held an average of 120 per day but the number has risen to about 200 at times because of the increase in drug busts and arrests.