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Mineral rights researchers influence local economy while staying in area

COSHOCTON -- While she's 165 miles from home all week, Lisa Hastings has found her stay in Coshocton a pleasant one.

"The people here are nice; it's clean and friendly," she said.

For the past month, Hastings has spent her days researching mineral titles and property deeds in the Coshocton County Recorder's Office in search of any mineral rights that might be available at the Utica Shale depth.

She's one of anywhere from 20 to 35 people who visit the office daily, said Susan Turner, deputy recorder.

Many, such as Hastings, stay in area hotels, eat in area restaurants and fill their vehicles with fuel from local gas stations.

Turner said office staff often point the visitors to restaurants, places to stay and to any other necessities such as where to get a vehicle repaired or a haircut.

"Any of the services that we take for granted day-to-day, they ask about," she said. "They like to investigate and see what we have to offer. About 99.9 percent of them are easy to get along with and take good care of our record books."

Sometimes, they take time out for a little leisure activity.

"I walked through the (Roscoe) village last week. It's really nice," Hastings said, "and everywhere I've eaten has been very good."

The visitors have enjoyed First Fridays, the Apple Butter Stirrin Festival, fall foliage and Amish Country, Turner said.

J.P. Dixon has lived in the area for about six months.

He, too, was drawn here by the demand for title searches for oil and gas leases.

A college friend who's working in Columbiana County tipped him off, so Dixon packed up and moved north from his Charleston, S.C., home.

"I've liked living here, meeting lots of good people," he said.

An outdoorsman, he's enjoyed hunting deer and pheasant and he especially likes the house he and two co-workers have rented along the Tuscarawas River.

"I just enjoying hanging out at the river," he said.

While there aren't too many researchers showing up compared to other counties, adjustments have been made.

Parking on the south side of the 300 block of Main Street now is limited to 30 minutes so Main Street business customers can get into the stores. Turner said Grace United Methodist Church has offered its parking lot for the researchers who might stay all day.

Tables have been set up in the law library in the basement of the Courthouse Annex for researchers to spread out the materials they're using, Turner said. It can take a day or more to research just one piece of property. In addition to various owners, the land could be subject to different leases.

For every piece of real estate, there are rights associated with ownership. There commonly are known rights, such as surface and building ownership, but minerals, oil and gas also are beneath the surface. The rights to these could have been severed under a previous owner, so the researchers have to go back through every owner of a particular piece of property.

"That's why it can take such a long time," Turner said. "Sometimes they have to go back 100 to 120 years."

The separation of mineral rights normally doesn't appear on a current property deed, and each owner has to be researched for any transfer of mineral-rights ownership.

Variations in leases also can already exist. For example, previous drill sites typically took in about 40 acres on a lease, all that would be drained by a vertical drill site about 4,000 feet deep, said Clif Little, associate professor of agriculture and natural resources at the Ohio State University Extension Office of Guernsey and Noble counties.

If drilling was accomplished in these old leases and it's in production, it might tie up the entire farm, all formations or only the land under the drilling unit -- the land required for that particular well determined by Ohio Department of Mineral Resources permit, he said.

Little has been invited to talk about the new horizontal drilling techniques around Ohio for the past couple of years.

Mineral rights can be unlimited to anything below the surface, or assigned to a specific commodity, such as coal, natural gas or oil. A lease also can be assigned a specific depth. So some landowners already might have leased property to a certain depth such as 4,000 feet, but Utica Shale can be found as far as 7,000 feet below the surface.

Right now, the recorder's office is simply busy assisting those with research, pointing them to computers or the books they'll need. Any funds coming in are nominal copy fees. But later, when assignment of leases are filed, it's $28 for the first two pages, and $8 for each additional page, Turner said.

That can add up as hundreds of names and deed pages are entered, and the staff will have to find those names in records and make notations.

The office is prepared if it has to extend its hours like Guernsey County has, Turner said.

Recorder Dave Dilly checked with Coshocton County Commissioners, and if any of the oil and gas companies step forward to offer to pay the cost of the office staying open later, it's been approved, she said.

Coshocton County came in among the top 10 counties in the state as far as the number of wells drilled in 2010, with 19 new wells at an average depth of 3,841 feet, according to the Ohio Oil and Gas Association.

However, only one horizontal well permit has been issued for Coshocton County, to Anadarko Petroleum Corp.

The company is constructing a pad and associated infrastructure with plans to drill a well in southeast Coshocton County as early as this summer, said John Christiansen, director of external communications for the company.

It's contingent on activities that are taking place in Muskingum and Noble counties, where five well site pads currently are under construction.

There will be adjustments in the coming months if the exploratory well in Linton Township has a good return, said Dorothy Skowrunski, executive director of the Coshocton Port Authority.

The Community Development Council will be the core organization to begin an oil and gas task force. Representatives from all sectors of our community will be added to plan and launch a new Community Task Force on Public Policy and Best Practices for Shale Oil and Gas Development. The Community Development Council was derived from the Coshocton County Community Economic Development Project that was led through the OSU extension office in 2004 and funded by Schooler Family Foundation dollars. The new Community Task Force will identify and recommend plans, policies and actions aimed at shaping the course and impact of shale oil and gas development as it affects Coshocton County's short- and long-term economic well-being. This initiative will be organized around impacts, consequences, costs and benefits in government and politics, the economy, education, jobs and skills, environment, culture, technology, lifestyle, health, economics, investment and philanthropic capital.

Preparation of this community-driven strategic plan will afford Coshocton County residents the opportunity to evaluate the strengths and weakness inherent in the local economy and to identify specific actions that need to be taken to promote-long term sustainability.

Meanwhile, area businesses continue to monitor the situation.

Kacey Lahna, manager at Coshocton Village Inn and Suites, said they've had some regular guests who've been involved in oil and gas research.

"We haven't had as many as expected," she said.

The staff usually points them to restaurants, and Lahna said it's an advantage to be within walking distance of many of the area's eateries.

Skowrunski said the real development could be a year away.

"It's still early, but we're ready," Lahna said.

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Coshocton Port Authority    106 South Fourth Street, Coshocton,OH 43812                                            Phone: (740)622-7005 

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