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December 15, 2012

Oil companies pour money into Ohio shale

KENSINGTON, Ohio — The hilltops in southwest Columbiana County, Ohio, are under attack.

Construction equipment is turning a former farm off state Route 644 in Hanover Township, about two miles east of Kensington, into a natural gas-processing facility that is scheduled to open in May. It is mostly a ground-clearing operation so far, said spokesman David Mashek.

But not for long.

A shale boom is under way in Ohio. Land has been leased. Nearly 190 wells have been drilled. Natural gas, oil and other liquids are being pumped from the liquid-rich Utica formation deep underground.

Now, Ohio is looking at billions of dollars invested in processing plants, pipelines and compression facilities — called “midstream projects” — to get those commodities to market.

Seven processing-separation plants for natural gas plus liquids and four pipeline networks are under construction in eastern Ohio. Their price tag, in excess of $7.2 billion, does not include interim facilities also starting to pop up in Ohio.

“You can bring (gas and oil) out of the ground, but it doesn’t do you any good until you can move it and get it processed and get it where it’s needed,” Terry Fleming, executive director of the Ohio Petroleum Council, said. “Midstream is the key. It is critical. ... It’s an infrastructure issue. You can only pull as much out of the ground as you can transport and process.

“What’s happening in Ohio is big — and it’s going to get bigger.”

In addition to the new plants, eastern Ohio is expected to see an additional $5 billion in new pipeline projects in the next few years because the state’s existing network is too old and too small to handle the volume of gas and liquids that energy companies are tapping.

Getting such infrastructure built has made energy companies a little antsy because their wells increasingly are ready for production.

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