The Utica Shale—and the natural gas deposits it contains—lies anywhere between 7,000 and 12,000 feet underneath the ground, a distance that was prohibitive to extraction up until the advent and proliferation of a process that combines  horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” This method of collecting natural gas involves first boring vertically into the ground and then drilling horizontally for thousands of feet into a shale formation, at which point millions of gallons of a mixture of water, sand and assorted chemicals are pumped down the bore at a pressure great enough to fracture the rock and release the gas that lies inside of it. Fracking, in and of itself, is not a new phenomenon and was being used as early on as the 1940s in vertical wells to extract natural gas, but it never really caught on because it was too inefficient. It was only with the addition of horizontal drilling, which enables oil and gas companies to create rock fractures and release the natural gas inside at exponentially higher rates, that the process became profitable enough to engender the shale boom we find ourselves in today.

Compared to it’s more renowned neighbor, the Marcellus Shale, which was subject to heavy drilling activity as early as 2008, the Utica Shale is the new kid on the block. At the start of 2012, Ohio had only granted 82 permits for horizontal wells in the Utica Shale, as opposed tothe state of Pennsylvania, which had granted nearly 9,000 horizontal well permits for the Marcellus Shale during the same period of time. However, over the past 2 and ½ years, Ohio has worked furiously to catch up, issuing close to 1,400 permits and earning the dubious distinction of being the first state to actually rollback their renewable energy standards in an attempt to kowtow to the oil and gas lobby. Belmont County, where Valput has all of his Ohio properties, also happens to be at the heart of the most recent surge in drilling activity in the Utica Shale, a development that portends a major windfall for Valput and housing woes for many local residents. Cody and I are told that the majority of Valput’s holdings are still in unfurnished properties sold predominantly to locals, but his radio ad buys directed specifically at oil & gas workers pushing furnished properties that are—by his own admission—more profitable than unfurnished ones, suggest that he is well aware of which way the wind is blowing and aims to cash-in on the burgeoning gas and oil boom.

With all that being said, I’m not terribly concerned with Bill Valput. I’m sticking around for his 3 hour long manifesto on the housing industry not out of any inherent interest I have in the inner workings of his company, but as a gesture of good faith to Cody, who is the president and executive director of Ohio Valley Renter’s Advocates, a non-profit that sprung up in 2013 as a response to the severe increase in housing costs in the region. And, despite the fact that he is the one setting the prices on all of his properties, it is the oil & gas industry and not Bill Valput who are predominantly responsible for the drastic hike in rental properties in the past couple years. That’s not to say that landlords like Valput are exempt from blame in the creation of this housing crisis, but they are simply doing, to one degree or another, what one would imagine a landlord would do under the given circumstances. When you’re dealing with a Mr. Potter, you shouldn’t expect him to hand back the newspaper with the bank deposit in it.

The housing crisis is something out of a basic economics textbook: A small town of a couple thousand people that has been economically stagnant for a sustained period of time suddenly finds itself atop a veritable gold mine of natural resources. Pretty soon, out-of-state workers who are qualified to do the work required and/or are willing to work under hazardous and grueling conditions come pouring in by the hundreds and sometimes thousands. Next thing you know, the temporary population of your little town has jumped up by 30% in the span of a few months and there’s been no comparable jump in infrastructure and housing. Suddenly, you have very little supply and a lot of demand from workers getting hefty per diems and sizable salaries who won’t blink twice at paying $1,000 or $1,500 a month for an apartment that cost between $400 and $450 a few months earlier. Meanwhile, the family that was used to paying that $400 a month in rent is still working at the same low-to-medium wage jobs they were before the oil and gas boom started, leaving them unable to afford their now $1,000 a month apartment and without a place to live. These people are the collateral damage that a boomtown leaves behind.

After we were done talking with Valput, Cody took about 45 minutes northwest of Wheeling to the village of Cadiz, Ohio in Harrison County to show me what an East Ohio fracking boom looked like. Cadiz is a small town of a little over 3,000 people located in the Appalachian foothills that is noteworthy for the fact that it is the county seat of Harrison County and that it was the birthplace of Clark Gable, whose chiseled and mustachioed visage graces the side of one of the largest buildings in the village’s uptown district. Fittingly enough, Gable worked as a roustabout in an Oklahoma oil field as a teenager and later starred alongside Spencer Tracy, Claudette Colbert and Hedy Lamarr in the 1940 film, Boom Town, a romantic drama based off of goings on in the North Texas oil boomtown of Burkburnett, Texas in the 1910s.

Unfortunately for Cadiz, the bustling boomtown of the silver screen bears little resemblance to the boomtown they are becoming. Sure, there is plenty of hustle and bustle to be found with gargantuan frac trucks and tankers and flatbeds rumbling up and down the streets and the campsites at Sally Buffalo Park are filled end to end with trailers, but that development has yet to spread to the town itself. Driving through the heart of Cadiz at the intersection of North Main and Market Street, I honestly couldn’t tell if the town was booming or busting. The streets themselves were nearly bereft of life and littered with overflowing trash bins, while just about every other storefront I drove by lay unused and vacant. As we parked our cars and began walking through town together, Cody turned my attention to the corner of a building across the street from the Harrison County Courthouse, where some of the hastily applied siding had been ripped off, exposing the original brick and cement molding that had cracked and deteriorated after decades of neglect. If there was a boom going on in Cadiz, it sure wasn’t happening in the town square.

One of many empty and dilapidated storefronts in downtown Cadiz, OH

As the we walked away from the revivalist second empire facade of the courthouse, Cody drew my attention to a empty storefront cluttered with a hodgepodge of junk and a thick film of dust.“Do you see that building over there?” Cody asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “What about it?”

“Up until a few months ago that was a viable business. My Local PC Pro. A guy named Larry Bertalino used to run it.”

“What the hell happened to it?” I asked.

“Some local landlords bought up the building with the idea they could flip it and charge a shitload of money to the oil and gas guys, so they ran Larry out of there.” she told me. “Not long after they bought it, the basement of building started flooding all of the sudden and ended up causing so much damage to Larry’s business that he had to leave.”

“Are you saying the building owners purposely flooded the basement of the property to get Larry out?” I asked.

“I can’t know for sure, but you can see all the good it’s done for the town.” Cody said as she rapped her hand against the opaque filth of the store window. “They couldn’t get the type of rent money they wanted from the workers around here so now it just sits here looking like hell.”

“What did they want for it?” I asked.

“I think they were trying to get about $1,500 a room.” she said.

“$1,500 a room?!”

“Yeah, but that’s the not worst we’ve got in Cadiz. You see that little building on East Market Street, right past the Di Angelo’s Pizza?”

“Yeah, I see it.” I told her.

“I call that the $10,000 apartment.” she said. “Woman who owns that building rents each of the four little rooms in that place for $2,500 a piece. I’d take you up there and show just how crappy the rooms are, but I posted a picture on Facebook a little while back of me smoking a cigarette on the building’s back porch and the lady is threatening to have me arrested.”

“Arrested?! For what?” I asked.

“Trespassing, I guess. But me getting arrested around here ain’t nothing new, so I’m kind of used to it.”  Cody said, shrugging her shoulders. “Let’s get out of here. I’ve got someone you ought to talk to.”

And with that, we left the center of town and started walking toward her friend Tammy’s house. Tammy, a single working mother who has lived in Cadiz her whole life, is one of the growing contingent of locals who are getting fed up with the impact the oil and gas industry is having on their town. The house that she rents a mile or so from the town square is pleasant, but, judging by the amount of rust and discoloration around the outside, has clearly seen better days.  I was about to stub out my cigarette when we got to the front porch, but Cody—who was also smoking—just walked right in without so much as knocking and motioned for me to come inside. Right off the bat, the thing that jumped out about Tammy’s house was the vast swaths of black and gold festooning the walls around me. I may have technically still been in the state of Ohio, but this was de facto Steelers (and Pirates) Country and everywhere I looked there were Terrible Towels and posters and souvenir cups with hypocycloid stars and buccaneers on them. Tammy certainly wasn’t shy about declaring her allegiances.

As I sat down on the lowriding couch in her living room with a cigarette in one hand a little composition notebook in the other, I couldn’t help feeling like Dustin Hoffman in All The President’s Men when he politely barges into that bookkeeper’s house and starts downing coffee and chain smoking so he can press her for as much information as possible before she kicks him out. In fact, I was so preoccupied with my little Woodward & Bernstein fantasy that I didn’t notice Tammy trying to speak to me until she had repeated herself in that loud, laborious tone folks use with children or people who don’t speak their language and asking me what questions I had for her.

“Lord…” I said, trying to stall while I switched out my cigarette for my pen and got properly situated. “Well, what would you say is the biggest problem here in Cadiz since the oil and gas guys started moving in?”

“The traffic.” Tammy said without a moment’s hesitation. “Absolutely, the traffic. It used to be pretty quiet and safe around here. Not any more. Go outside and drive any which way and you’ll just about get run off the road by one of these giant trucks they got rumbling around here. I mean, it’s nothing but tiny two lane roads out here and these pipeliners are driving all these trucks and tankers that take up nearly the whole damn road!”

“And they don’t give a shit about you.” Cody added. “Those truck drivers will run you clean off the road and not even think twice about it.”

“One of them damn tankers flipped over into my friend’s backyard the other day. Didn’t it Cody?” Tammy said.

“It sure did. And the bitch of it is that it our friend’s husband forever and a day to get home to tell her about it because the oil and gas company had blocked off the road for 5 miles in front of their house so they could clean up their mess without nobody looking.” Cody told me.

“How’s the local media covering all these accidents.” I asked.

“They’re not.” Cody said.

“These spills and accidents aren’t getting any press?”

“Well, I mean yes and no.” Tammy told me. “You’ll see something on the news or on Facebook real quick about some accident that happened somewhere and then, before you know it, it’s just gone…vanished.”

“What about the local paper?” I asked as I flipped through my increasingly illegible notes.

“The News Herald? God, don’t even get me started on them. You’ll learn 10 times more just looking at people’s Facebook feeds than you will that thing. Everybody that works at the News Herald has their heads stuck in the oil and gas industry’s backsides.” Tammy said. “Lord, what was the name of that one reporter over there who’s doing all the writing for Pipeline Connections now? I think it’s Amy something. Amy…”

“Amy Gareis?” Cody asked.

“That’s the one. Amy Gareis.” Tammy said.

“Hold on a minute. What exactly is this Pipeline Connections?” I asked. “Sounds like a trade magazine or something.”

“I should have one of them lying around here somewhere.” Tammy said, searching the room for any old copies she forgot to throw out. “I don’t know. I’ve just got so much crap in this house…I’ll find a copy for you later. But anyway, it’s the magazine that gets funded by the oil and gas companies to make them seem like they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread.”(1)

“They give them out for free at gas stations and mini marts and that sort of thing.” Cody told me. “It’s just them trying to brainwash us all into think fracking is going to make everyone rich, but it doesn’t. It just makes the rich richer and the poor poorer.”

After that the room went silent for a minute or so. Everyone had stopped looking at anyone else and just sat there thinking—or at the very least just being—until Tammy started to speak.

“I really wish this wasn’t the place I had to live.” she said. “But where else am I gonna go? Where else is my son gonna go? This is it…I really wish it wasn’t, but it is.”


Shortly after that, I said my goodbyes to Cody and Tammy and got back in my car to drive a half hour north to the town of Carrollton in Carroll County, which is ground zero for the Utica Shale play in Ohio. Statistically speaking, there isn’t a whole lot of difference between Cadiz and Carrollton. Like Cadiz, Carrollton is a village with a little over 3,000 people located in the Appalachian foothills and, like Cadiz, it is the county seat of a small Ohio county. The only substantive differences between the two towns are the facts that Carrollton doesn’t have a iconic movie star for a native son and is about 2 or 3 years ahead of Cadiz in the fracking life cycle, providing a glimpse into Cadiz’s near future. Unfortunately for the economic prospects of both towns, the fracking life cycle seems to be pretty short.

A fracking tanker that flipped over and spilled chemicals into a Harrison County resident’s yard.

For Carroll County, their Utica Shale odyssey began in 2010 when landmen started coming into Carroll County en masse looking to buy the mineral rights to residents’ properties on behalf of oil and gas companies and obtain permits from the state to begin horizontal drilling operations. Within 2 years, between 75 and 95 percent of the entire county was under lease to an oil and gas company and the actual fracking process was well underway, with more than half of the state’s active wells operating in Carroll County. Fast forward to today and, despite churning out more more natural gas than any other county in the state at the end of 2013, Carroll County can’t boast of having any of the top 10 producing oil or gas wells in Ohio and accounted for a paltry 4% of the state’s new drilling permits in the first quarter of 2014.Considering the fact that the productivity of hydraulically fractured shale oil wells decreases drastically over time (as much as 43% in the first year alone) and that Carroll County is increasingly relying on older wells for royalties and revenue without drilling many new ones, it’s not hard to see the frack bubble bursting on them sooner rather than later.

For a rural county that had been particularly hard hit by the effects of the recession—their unemployment rate reached a high of 16% in January 2010—a prospective oil and gas boom seemed like a gift from heaven. Residents were assured by the oil and gas industry and by their elected officials that the Utica Shale play would be a massive boon to their local economy and would bring back the jobs that were lost during the recession and, if you care to believe what the industry has to say on the matter, these assurances have been met in spades.According to a campaign ad in 2012 by the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, the industry’s loudest mouthpiece in the state, the recent influx of shale oil and natural gas drilling is responsible for nearly 40,000 new jobs in Ohio. The only problem with the Ohio Oil and Gas Association’s little factoid is that it does not bear even a passing resemblance to reality, especially when you consider the fact that the 2012 net employment gain for the entire state of Ohio and all of the industries therein was only 40,000 jobs.

In actuality, there have been fewer than 3,000 shale-related jobs created in all of Ohio, a number that translates to less than one-tenth of 1 percent of Ohio’s total employment and is itself misleading since the job creation figures include out-of-state workers in their total. It is extremely difficult to calculate just how much of Ohio’s shale industry is comprised of transient workers because, well, they’re transient, but if statistics from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania are any indication, it’s likely that anywhere between 30 percent and  80 percent of Utica Shale workers in Ohio are from out-of-state. That leaves the number of shale-related jobs in Ohio that went to native Ohio residents to between 600 and 2,100. Not that Ohioans can depend on these jobs sticking around for long. These aren’t your granddaddy’s cradle-to-grave gigs at AK Steel or GM. These jobs are temporary, and if the Utica Shale follows the same pattern as the Barnett Shale in Texas, each one of those wells across Ohio will end up having a shelf life of about 8 years. For the residents of Carroll County, the best has already come and gone.

However, it should be said that the “best” referred to above only applies to those residents of Carroll County who benefitted in some way from the oil and gas industry’s presence; the folks who sold the mineral rights to their land or the few who managed to get work on a rig or in jobs as truck drivers, dry cleaners or delivery men. These people are in the minority. Through dint of hard work or dumb luck, these people are the Haves of the Utica Shale boom. For the bulk of people living in and around Carrollton there has been no grand economic windfall or employment opportunities. These are the Have-Nots.

For my last stop of the day, I ended up heading to a dunnish little American Foursquare home on the northwest side of Carrollton to meet Jessica, a woman who would readily describe herself as being in the company of the Have-Nots when it comes to the shale boom. When I pulled up to the house, Jessica was standing in the front yard while two young girls in bright neon onesie swimsuits played around in an old oscillating wave sprinkler. Jessica, who was holding onto a little infant that seemed none too pleased to be out in sun, shifted the infant into the crook of one arm so that she could shake my hand with the other. She then issued some sort of stern warning to the two girls before taking me and the baby into the relative cool of her apartment, which was only accessible via a covered staircase that went up to the second floor of the house. The apartment was well furnished, but cozy to the point of being cramped. Practically every square foot of place was being occupied by some piece of furniture or appliance with only thin alley of space in which one could move about. I took a seat on her couch while Jessica spent the entire interview pacing back and forth on the small strip of open floor in her living room, bouncing the baby as she talked with me.

“I’m sorry, but I’m going to be walking around like this the whole time. Baby just can’t stand to keep still.” she said.

“No, don’t apologize.” I told her. “I really appreciate you taking the time to do this when you’ve got so much on your plate. How old is the baby?”

“Right now she’s a little over 4 months.” Jessica said before tilting her head back and sighing at the ceiling. “I did not think I’d ever have to do this again. I mean, my oldest son’s already in college for god’s sake. I was pretty damn sure when I had Mackenzie—she was one the two girls you saw when you came in—I thought I was done. But,” she went on as she turned her full attention to the baby, crinkling her nose and sending her voice about an octave higher,“someone had other plans, didn’t they? Didn’t they?”

For a couple of seconds after that we sat in relative silence, mainly due to the fact that I had no idea how one goes about asking follow-up questions to baby-talk. Thankfully, Jessica sensed my confusion and helped veer the conversation back on track.

“Do you see that house over there?” she asked, using her non-baby arm to point towards a window that was facing the street. “The one sitting caddy corner to this place?”

“Yeah, I think I do.” I told her.

“Well, that’s where we used to live.” Jessica said. “2 years ago, we were paying $425 a month to live there. Then, next thing we know, the landlord moves 12 drillers above us. 12 of them! He charged $1,000 each for the first 2 and $200 a piece for the rest.”

“Dear lord…that’s $4,000 a month.” I said.

“Don’t I know it? And living there was absolutely awful. Just awful.” she said, shaking her head.

“What was so awful about it?” I asked.

“Everything.” said Jessica. “Absolutely everything. The drillers would do all kinds of horrible things while we were there. They’d spy on us through our windows…they’d pee in our basement.”

“They’d do what?!” I said in disbelief, hoping I’d misheard her.

“They would pee in our basement. They were just animals…drunk, high animals who didn’t give a shit about anything around them.” she said. “And the craziest thing about is that we were the ones who had to move because we couldn’t afford the rent anymore. Thankfully we found this place right across the street that we can afford. We’re paying $800 a month now for an apartment that’s much smaller than the one we were renting for $425 two years ago. Not that I’m complaining or anything. We are so so lucky to have this apartment because there are a lot of people in Carrollton who can’t find something this cheap.”

“People are having trouble finding apartments below $800 a month in a town of 4,000 people?”I asked. “You can find apartments in New York City for less than that.”

“And that’s not even the worst part. You remember how I said the drillers were spying in on us?” Jessica asked.

“Yeah, I remember.” I told her.

“Well, one night after we had moved into this place I left the house to run a little errand and when I come back the door to the apartment’s cracked open and I see one of these drillers going through all of my shit. I could see him, but he couldn’t see me.” she said, but before she could continue, I interrupted her:

“—Hold up,” I said. “How did you know it was a driller?”

“It was obvious. First off, I know it was one of them from my old building spying on me, because he came into the house almost immediately after I left, thinking I wasn’t going to come back, but I wasn’t gone more than 5 or 10 minutes.” she told me. “I know some of these guys aren’t too bright, but no one’s stupid enough to rob a random house without be sure there’s no one home. Plus, he was a Latino guy and, I don’t want to sound racist or anything, but we didn’t have too many of them before the oil and gas guys moved in.(2) Anyway, I finally walked up behind him while he was rummaging through my stuff and asked kindly what the hell he was doing in my living room. Next thing I know he’s attacking me and we’re rolling around on the ground and I start trying to get over the corner there where I have a rifle up against the wall, but I couldn’t get away from him.”

“If you couldn’t get to the rifle, what did you do?” I asked.

“Well,” she said lifting her right thumb up in front of her face. “I just took my thumb and I gouged it into his eye as hard as I could. I mean, I stuck it in there real deep. It went in so far that when I pulled it out it had little bits of his eye hanging from it.”

I was so stunned by the story that all I could manage was repeating back to her what she had just told me:

“You had little bits of his eye…hanging from your thumb…”

“Yes sir. I’ll tell you, that guy ran out of here real fast after that.” Jessica said.

“What happened to the guy?” I asked.

“I have no idea.” she told me. “All I know is that must’ve skipped town pretty quick because I haven’t seen any Latinos with one eye walking around here.”

“Did the police try and find him?”

“They came over and did blood swabs and stuff, but what good’s that going to do you? The guy was probably undocumented to start with so it’s not like their going to have anything on file about him. Besides, everybody in this town knows if you have anything to do with oil and gas you get a pass.” Jessica said. “The fact of the matter is it’s not safe to go out anymore. It’s just not.”

“Did it used to be safe? I mean, before the oil and gas guys came?” I asked.

“We were quiet before. We were just trying to live. And now…” Jessica stopped, pausing to brush a rogue tear from under one eye. “…and now I’m stuck here…with those son’s-of-bitches. I’m telling you, these oil and gas guys will be here for at least 15 years. My baby will probably be about to graduate high school by the time they leave and there ain’t a damn thing I can do about it. I don’t want to live here, but we have no choice. I don’t know if we ever really did.”


(1) As it turns out, Amy Gareis is not alone in pulling double duty for Harrison County’s only paper of record and an oil and gas industry trade rag. Pretty much everyone, from managing editors and photographers to reporters and sales directors, pulls double duty at both the Harrison News Herald and Pipeline Connections, a reflection of the fact that both publications are owned by David Schloss and his Cadiz-based publishing company, Schloss Media. Now, while I’m no Doctor of Journalism, I think I can safely say that having an entire newspaper staff work simultaneously on a publication trusted to provide objective reporting on the goings on of the oil and gas industry and a publication bought and paid for by said industry isn’t exactly kosher. I mean, can you imagine the coverage of history’s seminal events if the major newspapers also published trade magazines for the industries involved in those events? If The New York Times also printed a magazine funded by the leading lights of the garment business in NYC, I’m pretty sure the headline for the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire would have changed from, “141 men and girls die in waist factory fire; trapped high up in Washington Place building; street strewn with bodies; piles of dead inside.” to something like, “New York Firefighters heroic in saving hundreds of girls in waist factory fire; ‘It could have been worse,’ police say.”

(2) According to numbers from the last American Community Survey taken by the US Census Bureau before drilling began in 2010, only 204 of Carroll County’s 28,988 residents were Hispanic or Latino—a number that works out to 0.7% of the county’s population.