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Guest column/We’re looking for balance

October 30, 2011
By LOU GENTILE , The Herald-Star

Recently, the Ohio Valley was thrust into the national spotlight when "ABC World News with Diane Sawyer" came to Steubenville to profile the potential job creation we could see as a result of the natural gas boom. The story, entitled "Boomtown," gives us all hope that we can turn around our economy and see the return of good- paying jobs in our communities. The prospect of exploring for oil and gas presents a unique opportunity to grow our economy and put our family, friends and neighbors back to work, but it must be done responsibly.

In my judgment, the most important issue facing Ohioans today is the need to create jobs and improve our economy.

Shale development presents us with a real chance to do just that. As an elected leader, my top priority is to support local job growth and that is why I have and will continue to encourage the oil and gas industry to use local workers. We are very fortunate to have a capable, dedicated and qualified work force ready and willing to support the needs of this industry.

Our well-trained and skilled construction trades should not be overlooked and we cannot allow out-of-state workers to replace local job seekers. Ensuring that our workers have the most up- to-date skills is vital to our success.

Eastern Ohio has an established network of community colleges and other educational institutions that are already being called upon to prepare our workers for jobs being created in our area. Gas drilling companies would be well served to seek partnerships with local colleges and universities to ensure that they have adequately trained workers.

In addition to using local workers, I am hopeful that out-of-state drilling companies will buy equipment, supplies, aggregates and other materials and services from locally owned businesses. I am committed to vigorously advocating on behalf of area businesses that are capable of supplying this industry with goods and services.

As is the case with many things in life, with great opportunity and reward comes a certain amount of risk. Recently, some lawmakers in Ohio have expressed concern about the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. One legislator has called for a moratorium on fracking until the results of a U.S. EPA study are published. I am opposed to this legislation and I do not think it will be given serious consideration in the Ohio House. This is not to say that we should dismiss the concerns being raised by these leaders, nor should we downplay the importance of such studies, but we must be cautious not to hold up current economic progress.

The recent actions taken by some members of the Legislature will push us as a state to look at all sides of this issue.

During the last year, I have met with industry representatives, environmental advocates and leaders from state and local government to discuss the issues surrounding the exploration of oil and natural gas. During these meetings, I have urged drilling companies to consider the following: First, utilize existing technologies to protect our water supply. Second, as discussed earlier, I have strongly encouraged the use of local workers and businesses. Third, landowners have rights and we must protect our property owners from irresponsible land agents who are not acting with transparency. Landowners should seek legal advice before signing away their mineral rights. Fourth, the industry should take responsibility for reclaiming any damage to the local infrastructure caused by the drilling process. I have also heard from local elected officials who are concerned that local governments are not going to receive their fair share of revenue from drilling activity in their counties.

I believe this is a valid concern that the General Assembly needs to review further, especially now when our local governments face drastic cuts to their state aid.

I will continue to work hard to make sure we strike a balance between job creation and regulation. I am optimistic that all the stakeholders can work together to explore for natural gas responsibly and safely. I am looking forward to seeing our area prosper once again and I remain encouraged about the economic opportunities that lie ahead.

(Gentile, D-Steubenville, is a member of the Ohio House of Representatives.)

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