Berlin Township Trustee Philip Panzarella urged Delaware County commissioners Thursday, June 28, to prepare for an anticipated onslaught of fracking in the near future.

Berlin Township Trustee Philip Panzarella urged Delaware County commissioners Thursday, June 28, to prepare for an anticipated onslaught of fracking in the near future.

The so-called Utica Shale "play," which first gained a toehold in eastern Ohio, recently has expanded to Knox and Muskingum counties. Government officials in Delaware and Licking counties already have begun to see signs that the boom is heading in their direction as representatives of the oil and gas industry begin to examine property deeds and mineral rights leases, they said.

"The long and short of this is that when the shale play came into the eastern part of the state, it resulted in a total investment to date, and it's only been a couple years, of $0.7 billion and the creation of approximately 2,000 jobs," Panzarella said.

Fracking involves the use of pressurized liquids to allow the release of natural gas and other fuels from rock layers.

Panzarella said advance planning will be crucial to optimize the play's benefits to the county and region.

"If you get ahead of the process, you will have your local educational institutions ready to train people in the highly skilled jobs required by the fracking industry," he said. "The forecast is for 10,000 high-pressure welding jobs to be created in the state, and those are high-paying positions, jobs that go for $40 to $45 an hour. And the fracking industry relies on more than 30 different kinds of high-skilled workers."

When oil and gas companies can't immediately locate skilled labor, Panzarella said, they will hire workers from outside the region or even the state.

Commissioner Dennis Stapleton said his relative silence on the subject should not be construed as neglect.

"Let me assure you," he told Panzarella, "that I've been thinking about Utica Shale quite a bit. I've already been to half a dozen meetings on fracking, made and heard presentations on fracking at the county commissioners association, involved our county engineers in exploring the issue."

Commissioner Ken O'Brien said he, too, has attended informational meetings about fracking and its implications for Delaware.

"This (Utica Shale play) has more profound implications than anything that's happened in the state of Ohio in the past 50 years," O'Brien said. "We'll need to prepare both human and financial capital."

Panzarella said Utica Shale produces "wet gas," which includes useful byproducts such as ethane, instrumental in the manufacture of plastics.

"I think the number of industries associated with the Utica Shale, the companies who will want to be located close to the wells, has been largely underestimated as well," O'Brien said.

But for every story in the newspapers or on television about the success of fracking, there is another story about contaminated drinking water or disputes over rights and fees.

"We need to think about problems in advance, whether that's roads breaking up because of heavy semis driving on them, whether that's the necessity for water for the pressurized fracking, or whether it's waste water being produced during the fracking."

County Auditor George Kaitsa said his office has been investigating the ins and outs of the fracking industry.

"We have been learning about the precise moment when a well becomes taxable and ways of determining how much a given well is going to generate in revenues for the owner and in taxes for the county," he said.

Commissioner Tommy Thompson said his biggest concern moving forward is the safety of county residents.

"How do we make it safe for us as well as it being a -- I don't want to use the phrase cash cow, but that type of a deal?" he asked. "How do we do it safely for our citizens, to reduce our costs to our citizens and increase the benefits, but also in a way that we don't endanger them in any way?"