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Fracking produces unexpected benefits for Ohio counties

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Oil and gas drilling, a long-time staple in Ohio, has become an important revenue source for not only gas companies themselves, but also for the counties that allow drilling on their land, a new industry study found.

The study from two organizations, the industry trade group Ohio Oil and Gas Association and the industry-funded Energy in Depth, showed that six Ohio counties, Belmont, Carroll, Guernsey, Harrison, Monroe and Noble, saw sharp increases in their property tax revenue since 2010.

These counties received $43 million from tax revenue from oil and gas drilling rigs between 2010 and 2015, and in 2015, 24 percent of all property tax collected from these counties came from taxes paid on drilling operations.

This recent spike can largely be traced to hydraulic fracturing, a type of drilling that has been in Ohio since 2011.

Fracking brought large-scale production to multiple states, including Ohio, and with this increase in production also came an increase in the taxes paid to the townships that give their land to drilling companies, according to Jackie Stewart, state director of Energy in Depth.

Production has particularly spiked since 2013 in Ohio and gas drilling increasing by 852 percent since then, the study found. Although the study did not include the early results of 2016, Stewarts said the first three quarters of 2016 already greatly surpassed 2015 in overall production.

In general, Ohio’s taxes on oil and gas are lower than the taxes on natural gas in other states, something Gov. John Kasich has attempted to adjust in the past, with little support form Republicans in the General Assembly.

Carroll County is the leading county for natural gas production, with over $14 million made off revenue tax between 2010 and 2015. Their profits have largely gone back to schools in the county: overall real estate tax revenue given to the Carrollton Exempted Village School District jumped from $6.7 million in 2013 to $11.2 million in 2015.

Meanwhile, the Carroll County general fund was estimated to receive around $223,000 at the beginning of 2016. However, Carroll County Auditor Lynn Fairclough noted that not all of the county’s townships are involved in the drilling sites, and the southeastern townships were the ones that ultimately benefited from drilling.

Of course, with increased drilling comes increased concern about the effects on the environment and the local community. According to the Ohio Environmental Council, many chemicals used in fracking — including hydrochloric acid, diesel fuel components, and formaldehyde to name a few — are highly toxic and can cause both short- and long-term health effects.

Hydraulic fracturing wells typically use millions of gallons of fresh water. Communities that are home to drilling operations usually see an increase in harmful air emissions, water contamination, and serious problems associated with the disposal of horizontal fracking waste fluids, according the Ohio Environmental Council’s website.

But both Stewart and Fairclough said these may not be as much of concern as citizens may originally believe.

Stewart, of Energy in Depth, who is also from Carroll County, said the county is a prime example of how environmental concerns do not always reflect reality.

“There’s this notion that we don’t still have rolling hills and farmland and beautiful environmental regions in one of the counties that started drilling 2012, and I can tell you that it hasn’t been what I think some folks are not seeing because they don’t come up here,” Stewart said.

Different methods of drilling may contribute to this lack of harm, but Fairclough ultimately said educating people on these new methods is vital in getting people to have a more accurate picture of what drilling entails, and how it can impact a community.

“The residents were initially concerned with the high volume of traffic, what fracking would do to the drinking water and increase in crime. These concerns were resolved by educating and accepting the changes,” Fairclough said in an email.

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