CARROLLTON, OHIO — A modern-day gold rush is about to turn Ohio into a Big Oil state.
Oil and gas companies have snatched up millions of acres in a land grab that’s transforming Ohio from a farm-and-factory state to one sprouting drilling rigs. If projections hold, Ohio could be an oil- and gas-producing state on par with Texas.
Ohio is just beginning to test the return from “fracking,” the controversial, deep-drilling technique that’s driving the land rush. But even now, only a little more than two years after the first frack well was drilled, the landscape is changing.
Already, hundreds of farmers have become overnight millionaires, and more than 2,000 jobs have been created, according to one estimate. Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy alone has leased nearly 2 million Ohio acres for exploration – assembling a portfolio of land seven times the size of Hamilton County.
Gov. John Kasich has even proposed cutting the state’s income tax in anticipation of a surge in tax dollars from Big Oil. Supporters say the new drilling could provide an energy source for America for decades to come.
But the fracking boom also puts Ohio in the center of one of the most contentious environmental debates of the day. Fracking has been suspected of fouling water supplies and causing earthquakes by irreversibly damaging layers of deep rock that pre-date the dinosaurs.
In the heart of the new oil and gas fields, everyday life already is changing. Strip clubs and “man camps” have been proposed, and an influx of new workers is blamed for increasing crime and traffic, rising housing costs and the erosion of a quiet, country way of life.
Nowhere is the activity more intense than here in Carroll County. Home to only 30,000 people, Carroll doesn’t even enjoy the convenience of a four-lane highway or a Wal-mart.
The county seat of Carrollton is a classic Ohio small town, with a 125-year-old courthouse sitting on a quaint village square. Donna’s Deli bustles nearby, serving up Reuben sandwiches, ham and bean soup and lemon meringue pie.
Yet of the 65 frack wells drilled so far in Ohio, half are in Carroll County. Oil rig operators, construction workers and engineers have filled up the Days Inn, occupying the main motel in town.
And it’s only just beginning. By the end of next year, the number of frack wells in Ohio is expected to number 850.
“This thing has come fast and furious,” says Jeffrey Ohler, president of the Carroll County board of commissioners. “This county wasn’t really ready for it. Now we have all these companies that want to come here, which is great, but….”
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