Drive through Carroll County and the impact of energy exploration is immediately evident. Dotting the eastern Ohio landscape are drilling pads that span several acres, yard signs direct truck traffic and a helicopter used for seismic testing sits along the highway.
Hotels are being built in communities that for years could not support a single fast food chain. On some evenings, lines of pickup trucks extend from gas stations. School funding has increased and new local businesses have popped up.
It all leads Cattlecreek Farm’s Kim Davis to question “Has anything stayed the same?”
“Oh gracious, no, not hardly,” replied George Mizer of nearby Harrison County.
He joined twp other Farm Bureau members recently to talk about how a boom in oil and gas exploration has impacted their communities and how much their own lives have changed since the seemingly overnight arrival of this multibillion dollar industry.
For Mizer, it began a few years ago when he was approached to put a pipeline across his land, a decision the seasoned farmer weighed carefully.
“You just can’t dig a hole, put a pipeline in, cover it up and your farm is back to normal,” he said. “It will take five to eight years until production is back to where it ought to be.”
Kim’s father-in-law, John Davis, said impacts to roads were an early concern, something he’d seen firsthand when he took a trip with community leaders to Pennsylvania.
“They had mud piled up like snow drifts in front of people’s mailboxes on township roads,” he said.
And Tuscarawas County farmer Jerry Lahmers said that many years ago it was a boom in the coal industry that led area farmers to give up their highly productive sheep flocks, leading to a long-term decline in the region’s agricultural profitability.
His hope? “To weather this storm of wealth that’s going to come in and still have agriculture when we walk out the other side,” he said.
It’s a familiar conversation for Ohio Farm Bureau’s Dale Arnold who has spent much of his time in recen years meeting with families and local groups to provide them with information as they made their individual decisions.
“You have a lot of development coming in, but also you have a lot of tradition. You have a quality of life here that you’ve had for well over a century,” he said. “Trying to find that balance is going to be critical moving forward and something everyone needs to pay attention to.”
Now, these farmers hope others look to eastern Ohio to understand the opportunities and challenges it is facing and to prepare themselves as oil and gas development continues to expand westward.
They all emphasize basic principles: don’t accept the first lease offer, understand what you’re signing and money isn’t everything.
But some things they didn’t anticipate. Davis said while he is pleased so far with the way one company has invested in infrastructure and environmental protocols, he was surprised by how much land he lost to the roads used to service a drilling pad on his farm.
Mizer is working to have topsoil hauled in after a contractor failed to properly reclaim parts of his land.
While Lahmers notes there is now almost no unemployment in his community, the area’s two tractor dealerships are struggling to find technicians.
Some neighbors have expressed concern about traffic and noise, and trucks used in the drilling process continue to wear on the roads.
“It’s a huge impact on your community. If you’re going to be good citizens, you need to get out in front of it,” Lahmers said.
Arnold points out that modern drilling requires large infrastructure that will have permanent effects on farm operations, and financial and business planning should aim to benefit several generations.
“You want to still be able to farm, and in many cases you can, but careful negotiation and discussion with a lot of folks is going to be very key into the future,” he said.
Photo by Melvin Lahmers