You don't have to sit with Chris Zeigler very long to realize that he is very passionate about the oil and gas industry in Ohio in general, and Eastern Ohio in particular.
Zeigler has recently become executive director of the Ohio Petroleum Council, a division of the American Petroleum Institute. In his new job, Zeigler is in charge of the organization's legislative and public outreach efforts and coordinates the educational and group activities of its members.
He made a brief stop in Steubenville Wednesday to introduce himself and to get a feel for our region of the state.
"It's exciting what's happening here," he said while discussing the oil and gas industry in the state.
Zeigler brings plenty of experience in government to the table. He has worked for many Ohio legislators, including former House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson. He also served as chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi, who represents Ohio's 12th District. A Republican from Galena, Tiberi's district in Central Ohio covers territory that Gov. John Kasich once represented.
The timing of his visit was pretty good. We ran a guest column written by Zeigler last week in which he made a compelling argument for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. That project, which would carry oil from Canada to refineries in Texas, creating thousands of jobs in the process, has been delayed by the Obama administration for reasons that don't make a lot of sense from an economic standpoint.
According to Zeigler, during the next 15 years, the pipeline would create more than 100,000 American jobs and inject $20 billion into our economy. Ohio would benefit as well, Zeigler wrote, seeing an increase in GDP by $9.6 billion during the next 25 years.
"Yes, it is safe. Yes, there's a right way to do it. I can only speculate as to what is happening with the administration," Zeigler said.
"The pipeline infrastructure is the safest, most reliable way to get the product to market," he added.
The oil and gas industry is having a great impact on Ohio's economy. According to information from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, core shale-related industry employment increased by 1,319 jobs, or 17.7 percent, from the fourth quarter of 2011 to the fourth quarter of 2012. Also during the period, the numbers show that 40 core shale-related business establishments were added.
Even more important to individuals, during 2012, the average yearly wage in core shale-related industries was $76,643, and the average wage in ancillary shale-related industries was $58,908. During that period, the average wage across all industries in the state was $44,242.
Zeigler said education across the state is key to continued development, adding that while people who live inside the shale play can see the benefits of the development, those who live outside the area are sometimes not as quick to sign on. Plus, he added, there are plenty of groups outside of Ohio who are working very diligently to bring an end to fossil fuel development.
Our region is already seeing some impressive economic growth thanks to the oil and gas industry. Look to Harrison County, for instance.
In Scio, the Harrison Hub fractionator is the state's first integrated natural gas processing and fractionation complex. The facility takes natural gas that comes out of the ground and turns it into more valuable gases, including butane, methane and propane.
And in Cadiz, MarkWest will operate a fractionator.
Development in the oil and gas industry pays dividends for our entire region, and it's exactly the stuff that Zeigler is looking to promote.
(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)