Commissioners anticipate oil and gas progress

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — The Belmont County Board of Commissioners answered questions about the future of oil and gas activity during their Wednesday meeting.

Guests included Bill Lample of the Dillies Bottom area along Ohio 7, near the site of a potential ethane cracker plant, who asked questions about whether the new presidential administration might prove harmful to fracking locally. He referred to executive orders from the office of President Joe Biden, including revoking a permit for a Keystone XL pipeline. The proposed pipeline would be nearly 1,200 miles from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

“All these executive orders on the oil, pipelines and drilling, is it going to affect Belmont County?” Lample said.

“It’s hard to say an exact yes or no,” Belmont County Commissioner Jerry Echemann said, adding the order is aimed at federal land.

“I don’t think it will. Obviously I think we have a president now who is less friendly to oil and gas than the previous president, but I don’t think we’re going to be impacted too much by the executive orders that Biden put into place, because the main ones are on federal land, and none of our fracking is on federal land,” Echemann elaborated after the meeting.

“The only federal land we really have nearby is the Wayne National Forest,” he said, naming the forest located in southeastern Ohio among the Appalachian Mountains, the southern edge of Monroe County on Ohio 7.

“I don’t think that in and of itself will hurt it. The big challenge now are the low energy prices. They’re wanting to see energy prices come up, so that they can do more drilling and be more aggressive at it,” Echemann said.

Lample said, “In Dillies Bottom and around Moundsville, there’s a lot of trailer parks. A lot of trailers.”

“These certainly are not the best of times for the oil and gas industry,” Echemann said, adding he hoped for a better turn.

“It’s all a function of price, when you look at the activity going on,” Commissioner J.P. Dutton said, adding there had been a slow-down even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. “I think if we see prices creep up a little bit.”

He mentioned other large-scale operations in Harrison, Monroe and Noble counties.

“Those three units, they’re going to use a lot of natural gas,” Dutton said.

He also referred to the impact of the recent cold snap and power loss in Texas. “Look at what’s going on in Texas with all the questions about grid reliability and where they’re getting their electricity from,” he said.

Another guest, Jim Morrison of York Township, said he believed the bans would not have an impact until about a decade in the future.

“It’s not going to happen tomorrow,” Morrison said, adding the industry is also invested in this area. “These oil companies didn’t come to Ohio just for a couple fire plants. They came here for fuel supplies for all over the world. … I think the future looks very bright, if we can get over this COVID.”

In other matters, the new Belmont County Justice Center, a building purchased from The Health Plan for use as a consolidated building to house Belmont County’s Western, Northern and Eastern Division Courts and the prosecutor’s office, is almost completely renovated and the commissioners expect to see it in use this month.

“We’ve got furniture going in now. The offices are probably going to move in the week of (March) 15,” Echemann said. “We’re hoping for an opening the week of (March) 22. That’s the hope. Of course, it’s flexible because things keep popping up. … Little things.”

The justice center, centrally-located in St. Clairsville, is expected to allow the courts to proceed more efficiently than they had in their older and somewhat cramped Western Court and prosecutor offices in the city or the more distant Eastern and Northern Court location in Bellaire.

This is the second of two buildings purchased along Ohio 7 for county use, with one now housing the Board of Election and Title Office.


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