A "Drill Baby Drill" sign greets motorists passing through Ohio's rural Columbiana County on U.S. Route 30 east of Canton.
About 10 miles or so down the road Chesapeake Energy Corp. (IW 500/104) wraps up drilling its third natural gas well at a site called Ayrview Acres. It's early March and rig workers at the Chesapeake site are separating long sections of drill bits with large wrenches called tongs.
The work is physically demanding and sometimes dirty. The rig hands employed by Chesapeake drilling affiliate Nomac are occasionally splattered with drilling fluid as they remove pipe from the hole, a process known in the industry as "tripping pipe."
For people tough enough to endure the elements and grime, the payoff is quite substantial. Entry-level rig workers can make as much as $65,000 a year, according to a Chesapeake representative.
Many politicians, businesses and residents in eastern Ohio hope similar high-paying jobs will come to their towns as the shale gas boom takes off.
Chesapeake's Ayrview Acres site is in the Utica Shale region, an area drawing oil and gas producers from around the world attracted to the liquids-rich natural gas locked underground.
As of mid-March, Chesapeake had eight rigs operating in the Utica Shale, says Pete Kenworthy, a company spokesman. By the end of the year, the company expects to have 20 rigs operating in the region.In addition to the direct jobs created by this "shale gale," oil and gas industry suppliers and service companies continue to expand near shale gas-drilling regions.
Hotels, restaurants and rental properties are also filling up in some of the towns impacted by the shale boom.
But similar to other fast-expanding industries of the past, oil and gas producers find themselves contending with public concerns about the social impact of their growing footprint.
It's a conundrum that has some industry leaders demanding more accountability and transparency from their peers.
"You have to have a social contract wherever you're at," Steve Mueller, president and CEO of Southwestern Energy Co. (IW500/269), said during the CERA Week energy conference in Houston on March 7. "One thing about the shale and unconventional plays is, for a large part, they're in areas where we've never been before as an industry. So you have to start with that social contract."
That social contract takes into account how society as a whole can benefit from oil and gas industry activities, Mueller says.
It also means the industry "gets it right," says Mueller, referring to concerns about hydraulic fracturing. Royal Dutch Shell plc (IW 1000/2) CEO Pete Voser takes it a step further, saying shale drillers should insist on strong regulation and enforcement to ensure everyone conducts hydraulic fracturing properly.
"While we all recognize the significance of this opportunity, our industry needs to do a better job of convincing the world that natural gas is a force for good," Voser said during his CERA Week keynote address.
Voser added that he backs President Obama's call for shale gas drillers to disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. Shell also is working with the Environmental Defense Fund to measure methane emissions from natural gas production in the United States, Voser said.