ST. CLAIRSVILLE - For the second time this year, Belmont County commissioners have signed an oil and gas lease with Rice Energy, and this contract will bring the county nearly $3.5 million in the coming weeks.
The five-year agreement is for 424.6 acres in eastern Belmont County at $8,200 per acre, and the county is to receive a check from Rice Energy for nearly $3.48 million in the next four months. Under the terms of the contract, the county also will receive 20 percent of the royalties from oil and gas extracted from beneath its acreage.
The agreement signed Wednesday is similar to another lease the county signed with Rice Energy earlier this year. In April, the county received a check from Rice Energy for $3.04 million to lease more than 400 acres of land at $7,500 per acre.
"I can tell you we've officially signed 838 acres of county property to Rice Energy," Commission President Matt Coffland said. "I guess you are the official driller of Belmont County, as far as the county is concerned."
The relationship between Rice Energy and the county is very fruitful, according to Commissioner Mark Thomas.
"We appreciate the company, what it has done in the past and what it will do in the future working with the county," he said.
County officials sent out notification of their intent to lease to as many as five energy companies, and Rice Energy responded with the best proposal, according to commissioners.
"Rice Energy is (quickly) becoming a neighbor and a corporate resident in Belmont County," Thomas said. "We appreciate that. We appreciate the jobs that are here, and the good communication between Belmont County and the company. We tell each other what we are doing.
"Obviously there are financial windfalls for both companies, and we're happy you're back to work with us," he continued.
Colin Peck, district land manager with Rice Energy, said the company was optimistic about its future in Belmont County.
"There are going to be a lot of economic benefits to come," he said.
Commissioners said Wednesday it is too soon for them to determine how the $3.5 million will be spent.
"Upon receipt of any bonus payments, the commission will take an ardent look, just as with the first lease, at where best to put the money," Thomas said. "We have good long-term infrastructure debt that could be paid down, and we have physical facilities issues that we, too, need to address. Since this is one-time money, it is incumbent upon the board to look at all options and make the best decision for the taxpayers of our great county."
Commissioners directed $2 million of the $3 million received in April toward paying down debt and designated the remainder of the money for the Interstate 70-Mall Road connector project along U.S. 40. Belmont County officials have estimated the county's debt at about $30 million.