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Even before the most recent recession, Carroll County in rural eastern Ohio was struggling. Employment prospects were sparse and young people were fleeing for opportunities elsewhere. Then came 2011 and arrival of the shale industry, giving the local economy an injection of jobs and the attendant financial benefits an influx of new business creates.
Susy Morris via Flickr/ Creative Commons
Though shale development has changed the county’s fortunes, the transformation from ghost town to boom town has been far from smooth, according to a study released in April by nonprofit research organization Policy Matters Ohio. Months after the study was made public, there are still lingering questions about whether the cultural, environmental and public health costs of fracking outweigh the economic benefits.
“This was a region struggling for a long time, so fracking has been a shot in the arm,” said Amanda Woodrum, report author and Policy Matters researcher. “But the story does not end there.”
Influx of Cash
The Carroll County study was part of a larger effort to determine the impact of shale development in four communities in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Policy Matters joined with other members of the Multi-State Shale Research Collaborative for the year-long venture.
Carroll County, which has half the state’s active fracking wells, is a decade newer to the shale energy game than its out-of-state contemporaries, said Woodrum. Still, about 95 percent of county sub-surface rights have already been bought or leased for potential use in domestic oil and gas production.
The signing bonuses that came with these land sales or leases—as high as $5,800 per acre—are being spent locally on farm property and equipment, the study says. Oil and gas companies are also purchasing supplies from businesses in Carrollton, the economic heart of the county, while company employees patronize local restaurants and bars. This activity has led to a 31 percent increase in sales tax receipts.
The inflow of cash came at a critical time for the region’s agriculture-based economy, said Carroll County commissioner Robert Wirkner.
“We had a number of farmers one step away from insolvency,” he said. “When the oil people came, the signing bonuses helped get them back on their feet.”
Increased sales tax revenues resulted in much-needed facility repairs, including a courthouse clock tower built in 1885. “We had been discussing removing the clock tower,” Wirkner said. “There was no money available to fix it.”
What About the Jobs?
General job trends in the county have been another positive indicator of economic activity, at least at first glance, Policy Matters researchers said. Unemployment is down to 8.3 percent from a recession-era high of 14 percent. However, in parsing these figures, Woodrum and her team discovered that shale gas drilling has not yet lived up to the jobs promised.
Fracking-related employment in Ohio has grown by about 3,000 jobs, less than one-tenth of one percent of the state’s total employment, said Woodrum. This number is far from Ohio Oil and Gas Associations claims that 40,000 new positions would be created by the industry.
Susy Morris via Flickr/ Creative Commons
In Carroll County, higher paying jobs related to oil and gas drilling, like construction of pipelines and processing plants, have been mostly going to out-of-state workers following their company’s drilling rig as it moves throughout the country. “Oil jobs are almost a new form of migrant labor,” said Woodrum.
The local population has picked up less lucrative jobs made available through the economic activity that fracking created. Truck driving, delivery, waitressing and cleaning positions are among the existing services that received an uptick. While a shale oil processing plant being built in a neighboring county may result in permanent local jobs,the overall demand for this type of work has still been lower than expected.
The influx of workers has meant an increased need for temporary housing. Few workers are buying property, but a hotel in Carrollton has been solidly booked for two years, while the local campgrounds are overflowing with RVs. Rental property prices have doubled, tripled and even quadrupled, squeezing out some lower-income residents who couldn’t afford to pay higher rent.
A larger concern for citizens interviewed by Policy Matters researchers was fracking’s impact on roads and traffic. Trucks filled with materials have clogged streets already unfit for heavy loads and additional traffic. Drilling companies signed maintenance agreements to share the cost of repairing damaged roads, but the upwards of 13,000 vehicles that pass through a major Carrollton intersection on busy days have been a shock to the system for the town of 3,200.
“It used to be you could shoot a cannon down Main Street at noon and not hit anything,” said county commissioner Wirkner. “The traffic now really jumps out at you.”
Susy Morris via Flickr/ Creative Commons
Residents expressed concern about chemical-laced fluids dredged up by the fracking process contaminating local drinking water. Other environmental anxieties included air and noise pollution from the flaring of gas wells and from the drilling itself. Interviewees also mentioned the risk of slurry spills related to pipeline construction and the connection between hydraulic fracturing and earthquakes.
“We heard so much (statewide) and in the media that came from a very pro-fracking point of view,” said Woodrum. “People at the local level were much more pragmatic about drilling’s benefits and costs.”
Ultimately, the report concluded that the economic benefits of fracking fall far short of what was promised and come with costs to safety, the environment and the community.
Since the processing plants and drilling rigs aren’t leaving Carroll County anytime soon, the only viable option is to maximize the benefits and minimize the costs, said Woodrum.
For starters, the report recommends a five percent severance tax to be used for industry oversight and regulation. The tax would also cover the community impacts of drilling, from cleanup of streams flowing through drilling areas to storing wastewater.
The study further suggests an additional 2.5 percent tax to be set aside in Ohio’s Advanced Energy Fund, which promotes diversification of Ohio’s energy portfolio and use of that energy locally. Better monitoring of water quality, new pollution control requirements and policies requiring local hiring for fracking-related jobs are among the other changes outlined in the report.
Enacting those recommendations won’t be easy, especially in a state where the pro- and anti-fracking camps rarely engage in fruitful conversation, said Woodrum. Even with these roadblocks, she believes it’s critical for state leaders to find clarity when it comes to the “complicated story” of Ohio’s shale gas future.
“There’s been both good and bad to shale development locally,” Woodrum said. “We need to work together to come up with some creative solutions to the problems.”
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A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.
"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."
The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland pic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
Michael Schade / Twitter
At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.
The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.
Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.
"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."
Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.
Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.
"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.
"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."
The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.
Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.
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