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Shale plays to corporate image

Consol Energy puts human face on quest to unearth Utica and Marcellus ‘gifts’

September 24, 2012
LARRY SHIELDS - Staff Writer ( , Salem News

SALEM - While hammering out a road use management agreement earlier this summer, Fairfield Township trustees made detailed arrangements for Chesapeake Exploration to pay half the replacement cost for a $24,000 culvert.

It was a typically small RUMA, but at the township level anything can be a big deal and trustees were concerned.

While 24 "bills" is a lot of money, replacing a 40-foot section of 60-inch culvert is a lot of work too, but the oil and gas companies moving into these new neighborhoods have a highly-developed sense of corporate image.

Along with cash they carry a certain amount of magnanimity.

Chesapeake agreed to cover half the culvert cost, but it was after trustees registered gripes regarding a previous RUMA that left two township roads in less than satisfactory condition.

Chesapeake farmed the work out but dust and "slimy" conditions after rain led one trustee to say the "roadability" on one road was destroyed.

Trustees had additional concerns about their annual road program, so they got Chesapeake to agree to let them do their own road work, scheduling it around annual chip and sealing and Chesapeake would reimburse the township.

Problem solved.

That's what got them to the culvert situation in the next RUMA.

Trustees presented two quotes, one with a granular backfill at $20,910 and a higher-priced quote for a $24,064 culvert with a concrete encasement.

Reasoning that the persistent dry weather conditions and the brevity of the job would work against it settling in firmly, trustees opted for the more expensive concrete culvert.

Most everybody looks for bargains and tries to shave copper off of pennies, and that's why trustees were somewhat surprised when Chesapeake agreed to the more expensive fix and to split costs down the middle.

Trustee Barry Miner pointed out last month, "This is a direct situation. We called it to their attention and they agreed to split the costs.

"We called them and three days later they called back. The contractor is working on it right now."

Miner noted it was to Chesapeake's credit.

"Sixty inches is fairly large, that's where Chesapeake has been tremendous ..." Miner said.

Arrangeents were recently worked out and Chesapeake will pay $12,032.

Another example of a large energy company treating a neighbor right came last January when Consol Energy donated $22,318 for a fire-rescue boat on Wheeling Island for the Wheeling Fire Department.

The dock, just behind an Ohio River-front fire station, is up and running but would not be there without the generous donation since a number of attempts to secure grant money were unsuccessful.

The dock had been sought after for years.

Annually around seven million tons of coal from a Consol mine in Marshall County is pushed through the area, north toward Pittsburgh.

David Kelly, vice president of Consol's Ohio Valley operations said it was an opportunity to be a good neighbor and advance Consol's core value of safety.

So there's something happening between these energy giants and their new-found local beneficiaries. Corporate image seems to be forming up at center stage.

During the Youngstown Utica shale business expo earlier this month, Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone beckoned visitors and participants in his opening remarks by noting the shale boom is "the next big boom for the Mahoning Valley."

And there to was a corporate attitude emerging that some people might not recognize.

Harry Schurr, general manager of operations for Consol Energy which just opened what he called an "extremely strategic" field office in the World Trade Center in Leetonia ... yes Leetonia, has some interesting comments aside from talking shop.

He called the vast range of the Utica and Marcellus shale plays "gifts."

Gifts that will allow Consol to "go back onto people's properties repeatedly ..."

He even threw in some historical context. Oilfields? Texas oil? No, no, no.

How about Pennsylvania, the Drake well?

"The first oil well ..." Schurr said, "and now we're with the Utica and the Marcellus."

Primarily a coal producer, Consol, Schurr noted is in a "unique" position as it "operates on so many different horizons ... surface, coal seams, and from a regional perspective there are vast coal reserves in the area along with natural gas, water, and world-class universities and a national energy technical lab - the Department of Energy's (DOE) lab for fossil fuel energy research and a motivated and educated workforce ..."

Somewhere in all the talk of energy independence, facts, calculations, numbers of rigs and drill holes converted into millions of dollars, he managed to say something so downright humane and caring it gives pause: "Access to economical electricity is a basic human right."

Now that's putting a human face on a corporation. Sure there's a dollar sign in there but, man, that's pretty darn refreshing.

Corporate attitude? Almost didn't recognize that one ... but in the quest to unearth a natural gas supply that someday may provide 75 percent of that electricity, Schurr posed Consol's five core values: Safety, compliance, continuous improvement, production and cost.

"We don't want to do anything without talking about safety," Schurr said. "(Regarding) compliance ... we might not get it right the first time, but we will ..."

As far as production and cost, Schurr said they will come along if you do the first three while adding the company remains dedicated to research and development of coal.

But back to the safety thing. It really is played up big.

Safety - absolute zero accidents - from the executive level to the line employees, Schurr explained, "If you have a problem (safety) with something on our site we expect you to shut it down ... even the contractor ..."

That credo leads to one more point, "People ask, 'why not disclose chemicals?'" Schurr said.

"We do, it's on"

The website has a chemical registry that says, "In a single year, FracFocus has made a national impact from the Beltway to the Bakken.

"During this time, more than 200 energy-producing companies have registered over 15,000 well sites through FracFocus."

Visitors can search for nearby well sites that have been hydraulically fractured to see what chemicals were used in the process.

Larry Shields can be reached at



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