Massive Shale Formations Fuel Infrastructure Work

By Randy Happel, Contributing Editor | June 2014, Vol. 69, No. 6

Many northeast Ohio communities that are located in the Marcellus and Utica shale plays are taking proactive steps to address an aging, inadequate utilities infrastructure.

One such community is Wooster, OH, located approximately 50 miles south/southwest of Cleveland and 35 miles southwest of Akron. Because of this, northeastern Ohio pipeline installers are benefiting from the increased attention to outdated pipelines, including family-owned Whitt Welding, a utility installation contractor located near Wooster in Barberton, OH. Last spring, the company recently installed more than 17,000 feet of new pipeline for the municipality of Wooster – and there’s more pipeline work ahead, especially for their horizontal directional drilling operations.

“We’re averaging one to two bores a day right now,” says Steve Whitt, a third-generation family member who joined the business six years ago. “I’d estimate we’ve completed 50 to 60 pipeline bores just in the past month alone. There’s a lot of natural gas drilling going on in our area so pipeline work has been steady. It’s been very good for our business.”

Centuries’ supply

Geologists and energy experts suggest the volume of natural gas contained in combined Marcellus and Utica plays is enough to fuel the needs of North America for more than two centuries. The full economic impact of these immense underground energy reservoirs is still evolving, especially in Ohio since natural gas production in the Buckeye state is just beginning.

According to a recent report compiled by Bentek Energy, a Colorado-based energy market analytics firm, continued development of Utica and Marcellus and a rapidly growing infrastructure to transport the gas represents significant opportunities for the entire Northeast U.S. And that’s good news for scores of pipeline installers like Whitt Welding.

Natural gas drilling activity in the Marcellus and Utica shale plays can also be linked to a notable increase in municipality work. After the Great Recession forced towns like Wooster to postpone plans for upgrading aging infrastructures, many municipalities are now moving forward with underground projects delayed previously due to funding shortfalls. Yet the notable increase in infrastructure work is more than just coincidental.