I grew up on a dirt road in eastern Ohio, surrounded by rolling hills with the sights and sounds of nature all around me.

Today, my home sits in the heart of Utica shale production – and nothing has changed, except the dirt road.

Living in Utica Shale Country is probably nothing like most people imagine.

My place is at the hub of several wells in various stages of completion and production. Most of them are less than a mile away. What do I hear when I walk outside? I hear birds singing. And I see the same beautiful landscapes that I did growing up.

Like I said, nothing has changed except the dirt road. It’s about to be paved by the oil company… just one benefit of living next door to a shale well.

A benefit of living next door to shale production – paved roads. This one was paved by Gulfport Energy in eastern Ohio.

When Utica Shale Came To Town

This was the kind of small town people loved to leave. Kids graduated from high school and seldom looked back. Good paying jobs were scarce and opportunity hard to come by… But all this was about to change, seemingly overnight.

The shale energy revolution has benefitted small towns all across America, and this one was about to become one of benefactors.

Before even a single well had been drilled, money began flowing into the area.

The first thing I noticed was new cars and trucks around town. Landowners were receiving bonus money from leasing their oil and gas minerals. People finally had a few extra dollars in their pockets to spend.

Not long after, new businesses began springing up all around the county – restaurants, gas stations, hotels and oil industry-related services. Existing businesses were thriving – dealerships, contracting companies, laundromats, grocery stores, accountants and attorney’s offices… You name it. It was bustling.

Anyone who wanted a job soon had one. Landman, pipeliner, heavy equipment operator, mechanic, rig worker, laborer, truck driver, title agent, mobile notary…there were more jobs than could be filled, it seemed. There was also a new need for geologists, civil engineers, petroleum engineers, surveyors and more.

Area high schools, technical schools, and colleges began offering oil and gas industry-related curriculums.

Many hard hit rust-belt towns in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia have come back to life because of development in the Marcellus and Utica Shale. It was exciting to watch as the Utica breathed new life into the area.

Entrance to “Tuna Nut” well pad in Belmont County, Ohio.

When Your Next Door Neighbor is a Shale Well

My closest neighbor was about a third of a mile away. That is until a well pad was constructed on the property bordering my own. My closest neighbor will soon be a Utica well.

A road crew has been widening and preparing to pave our road. This is paid for by the producer, Rice Energy of Pennsylvania. If you’ve ever lived on a dirt road, you know this is cause for celebration.

The other day, a friend called to say that he was working at a well pad located less than a mile from our home. He said they were fracking.

Really? I thought I’d hear blasting… Maybe feel the ground shake, see billows of smoke, smell fumes. But there was nothing.

Shale wells have horizontal legs thousands of feet underground that span for miles. Your property can be in a producing well and you would never see or hear a thing.

A few weeks prior to this, a contracting crew stopped in to document our drinking water source, which happens to be a developed spring. If our water source is ever compromised or contaminated by fracking activities, it’s the producer’s responsibility to supply us with a new one. Although I haven’t heard of anyone locally who has lost their water source or had it contaminated and studies don’t back up claims of widespread water contamination in production areas. I feel more secure knowing this plan is in place.

One of the most common complaints from residents living near shale production is the influx of truck traffic. Drilling and fracking a single well can require more than 1,000 trips by trucks to haul in equipment, workers and water. I’m definitely not looking forward to increased traffic, but I realize it’s temporary. After the well is finished, an average of one or two vehicles a day visit each well, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation.

When drilling and fracking are underway at a pad, it looks like a small city – especially at night when the sky is lit up. Once the rig is gone and the well is fracked, there’s not much to see. In fact, the actual well site would be difficult to find without a map.

It remains to be seen just how production of the Utica shale play will affect our area long term. For now though and for the past several years, it certainly has provided our small town and numerous others in the Appalachian Basin with remarkable growth, thriving economies, robust job markets and an improved quality of life.

Featured photo courtesy of themarcellusshale.com

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About The Author Chaye Stephen

My dad was a news reporter and later published Coal & Energy News, a magazine covering the Ohio Valley Coal industry. That's where I first honed my writing skills. I studied journalism in college but soon found that writing doesn’t always pay well. So through the years, I've functioned in many other capacities, including business owner and entrepreneur. Most recently, I've worked in the oil & gas industry leasing and buying minerals. I have two sons, and we live in the heart of the Utica Shale play in East Ohio. We live on 85 rural acres surrounded by the beauty of nature and lots of critters. Even here, the need to write still flows through my veins.