By IAN HICKS
GLEN DALE, W.Va. - Like numerous other landowners up and down the Ohio Valley, the natural gas rush has helped the Reilley family of Glen Dale turn a large, empty plot of land into a source of income. But unlike most of those properties, it's not what lies beneath the surface that the industry finds valuable.
The Reilleys are leasing about 7.5 acres along W.Va. 2 to MarkWest Energy Partners and Sheehan Pipeline as a staging area for their nearby operations. Each day, heavy equipment maneuvers on the site amid piles stacked high with lengths of green pipe through which valuable natural gas soon will flow from local well pads. This is just one example of how 2012 has been a better than average year for business in Glen Dale.
Brent Reilley, who is also part-owner of the Reilley's Arms Motel in town, said the influx of out-of-town natural gas workers has made this the busiest year he can recall in perhaps the last 10-15. During the summer, he said the motel was routinely booked solid - often suggesting that those they had to turn away check out places that normally would be considered competitors.
Reilley said things have slowed down since recent bouts of cold rain began to signal the winter to come. Even so, states such as Oklahoma, Louisiana and Kentucky remain well-represented among the license plates on vehicles parked outside the motel and Young's Cafeteria next door.
Many of the drillers and pipeliners have moved out of the hotels in favor of more permanent living arrangements, Reilley said, noting a typical worker will stay five to seven days, sometimes longer, and often will go home on weekends.
"We've only had one say the price was too high, but he stayed two or three weeks," said Reilley.
He hopes 2013 will bring more of the same once the weather warms up again, but he also knows things likely will return to normal eventually.
"It's better than it was," Reilley said of the local economy, "but how long's it going to last? ... It's been hard times before. ... Every good thing has to come to an end."
With the motel next door and the MarkWest pipeyard so close by, the daily breakfast crowd at Young's Cafeteria has grown substantially. According to Rick, a manager at Young's who declined to give his last name, the gas workers have kept business strong during traditionally slow periods. Many of them, he added, have become regulars.
"We know a lot of them by their first names. ... They're real friendly people. They've made a nice addition to the area," Rick said.