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Steve Novotney Says, "An Industry's Return"

There were no fewer than 20 abstractors sitting on hard chairs and working on plastic buffet tables on the second floor of the Ohio County Courthouse when I visited the Clerk's Office last week.

It's a sight unseen for many more than a few months after several years of this hallway-made work environment being the, "Oh yeah" normal when the gas and oil industries were frantically looking for a new hole to poke into the planet. The activity was constant for a few years in this area and while many local business owners enjoyed the economic impact, local roads and traffic patterns suffered.

In the northern panhandle it's all about the Marcellus, and in East Ohio it's the Utica shale play and thousands of acres in both areas have been leased and hundreds of well pads developed for natural gas extraction. Because the vast majority of drilling and fracking has taken place in rural areas the convoys of water trucks, the oversized rig tractor-trailers and superloads, and that endless line of white-truck traffic clogged the country roads for nearly four consecutive years.

But then the price of natural gas dipped lower than the commodity had for more than 20 years and some companies crashed, others like Chesapeake Energy were forced to sell off assets, and the out-of-towners vanished.

So did the economic impact.

Many complaints were registers by residents during that gas rush and in various ways the people employed by the industries felt a distinct dislike. Local property owners gauged them, too, charging them three times what the booted-out tenant was paying, and hotels did much the same up and down the Ohio River. Understandably, business owners in downtown Wheeling expressed concern to city officials about the white trucks that parked along Market Street and law enforcement was active with issuing citations for expired meters.

Since those workers returned to their homes, though, economic development has slowed, most rentals returned to reality, royalties have dwindled, some landowners with leases are wondering what this re-start will mean for them, and local environmentalists breathed a collective sigh of relief. In many ways the impacts are undefined concerning fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, although many complaints and claims have been made in this area and others where the new harvesting science has been performed.

But that activity is coming back and has already started to do so during the past several weeks. Frackers, water truck drivers, and pipeliners are expected to fill the area's hotels, roadways, and restaurants once again in 2017 because the price for natural gas has reached the worth level that triggers such activity.

So how will we treat them this time around?