|Before drilling rigs were in the hills outside Carrollton, unemployment topped 16 percent in Carroll County. It's 5.6 percent now.
Before “big rigs” filled the streets of this village of 3,200 people, you could doze away a warm afternoon on the town square; it was that quiet.
There were vacant store fronts then, too. Now, surrounding restaurants and shops are busy.
Life-long area resident Shirley Anderson says that’s good…but the county has lost something too. She’s curator of the historic McCook House — a Civil War Museum across from the square.
“It was a very friendly, quiet, easy-going county. And I guess what bothers me the most about it is the traffic. The large trucks, stopping at the stop sign right there beside the house, sit there and just bounce up and down; actually shaking the museum apart.”
She points out cracked plaster on the side of the building and broken panes of glass. Anderson also believes the changes in the village of Carrollton are costing her museum visitors.
“I use to have buses of tourists come to the house. I haven’t had a one this year.”
Across the square
Sheriff Dale Williams was Carroll County born and raise, too. He says increased traffic is a huge problem. Accidents were up 150 percent in 2013 over pre-shale-boom years.
But he says, although things like disturbance calls in bars are up, contrary to expectations, a massive influx of temporary workers from other parts of the country has not raised the crime rate.
“I’ve not seen, because of people moving into the county, that there’s an over-flux of burglaries, or breaking & entering and that sort of thing. I’ve not seen that.”
Williams says it’s also a relief that the county’s annual sales tax revenue more than doubled between 2010 and 2013, to $3.4 million. And he says, drilling companies spent $40 million fixing up rural roads. The county’s yearly budget for all road repair is just $500,000.
“If I look at the big picture — and I’m sure there are people in the county that will disagree with me — but from my point of view, it’s a lot better than it was.”
Fifteen years ago,
Paul Feezel moved his business consulting practice to Carrollton from the metro Cleveland/Akron area for the quality of life. And he says, while drilling has been a financial boost for many rural families, the price of that progress is high: industrialization of the pristine countryside, putting key resources like air quality and water at risk.
“That industrialization certainly brought money through the area. But I harken back to an informal survey where they asked: 'What are the reasons that you live here?' And of those top reasons, none of them were about economic opportunity.”
Feezel says the county conducted that survey in the early 2000s, and that it showed most residents valued outdoor lifestyles and clean air and water. He also says those natural attributes of Carroll County gave rise to thriving summer camp and outdoor recreation businesses that could fade away if the area loses its rural character.
Still, he knows the economic boon from drilling is real. He says he got about $450,000 for the mineral rights to his 80-acre property. And he expects another $400,000 in royalties over time. He says those payments are typical – and that they can be “life changing” for the average small farmer.
But, he says, the risks and down sides of drilling may drive him away.
“The reality of it is, we’re not going to be the beautiful, little rural county we used to be. And that may impact my wife and I and our decision as to whether we stay there or not.”
The edge of paradise?
Life-time Carroll County residents Shirley Anderson of the McCook House and Sheriff Dale Williams are here to stay, but they disagree about the impact of the drilling boom.
“Actually," says Anderson, "Carroll County used to be known as ‘the edge of paradise.’ For our tourism, that’s what we called ourselves. Well, this is hardly the edge of paradise now. I'ts more like the edge of chaos.”
But Williams disagrees.
“Carrollton will always be Carrollton and will always be my home. I’ve seen the good and the bad. And I think it has improved over the last three years.
The argument will continue to play out in Carroll County – and it may soon expand to other parts of Ohio, too. This week, the U.S. Energy Information Agency declared the state’s Utica Shale one of the fastest growing energy plays in the country.