BEVERLY - A capacity crowd was on hand for the 12th annual Muskingum Valley Chamber of Commerce Banquet at St. Bernard's Catholic Church in Beverly Thursday night.
"We've had a great turnout. There were 105 reservations, and we set up enough tables for 120, but still had to add two extra tables to accommodate everyone," said Rick Walters, chamber president.
Musical entertainment during dinner was provided by Waterford husband and wife duo Phil and Sherry Neill who instructed the chamber to donate their pay for the evening to the St. Bernard's food pantry.
Keynote speaker for the evening was Jerry James, co-owner with Gene Huck of Artex Oil Company in Marietta, who provided a history of the oil and gas industry's impact on Southeast Ohio.
James was also presented the 2014 Founders Award by Walters during Thursday's banquet.
"(Artex) is responsible for the continuation of at least 500 jobs in this area," Walters said. "And they're strong supporters of the local community."
2014 Chamber Award Winners
* Founders Award: Jerry James, Artex Oil
* Business of the Year: American Electric Power Waterford facility
* Community Service Award: Lower Muskingum Historical Society
* Scholarships: Waterford High seniors Alyssa Miller and Eli Strahler
The Business of the Year Award went to American Electric Power's Waterford gas-fired plant.
"They began in 2005 with 20 employees and this year have more than 40 workers," said Glen Miller, a chamber director, who presented the award.
"The Waterford facility paid the Wolf Creek School District $3,596,652 in taxes this year, as well as more than $438,000 in taxes to the Waterford Township Trustees," he said. "They also support many community projects and events."
John Greenlees, maintenance supervisor for the AEP plant, accepted the award.
"It's an honor to be recognized, but this says a lot about all of the employees who operate the Waterford AEP plant," he said.
Chamber director Jean Yost presented the Community Service Award to the Lower Muskingum Historical Society, noting the organization's major contribution to the community. Society president Jim Reed accepted the award.
Waterford High School seniors Alyssa Miller and Eli Strahler were each presented a $1,000 scholarship by chamber director Tamera Johnson.
Miller will be attending Ohio State University as a visual communications major, and Strahler will attend Ohio University as a biology and pre-med student this fall. Strahler could not attend, so his mother, Tracy Strahler, accepted the scholarship award.
Johnson said a total of 21 applications from several area schools were submitted for the scholarships.
In his keynote speech, James said the history of oil and gas goes back a long way in Southeast Ohio.
"The oil and gas industry has been here for a long time," he said, but noted the minerals were present in this area long before any such industry existed.
"In the 1500s and 1600s oil and gas were already naturally flowing down streams in the Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York areas," James said.
He credits George Washington with being one of the first government officials to report an "oil spill" as Washington explored oil-laden tributaries on lands he had claimed along the Ohio River in the 1700s.
In the early 1800s oil was discovered by two men who were drilling a well for salt just south of Caldwell. But James said at the time people had not realized the value of oil as an energy source.
"They were looking for salt, and the oil was often used for patent medicine at that time," he said. "On the east coast of the U.S. the whale oil business was booming as they hunted whales for their oil that provided a bright, white light for oil lamps. But they almost hunted whales into extinction."
In 1859 the first commercial well for oil extraction was drilled in Pennsylvania, which was soon followed by similar wells in Ohio.
"By the early 1860s oil was also being produced in West Virginia (then still part of Virginia) and Southeast Ohio," James said. "In 1861 Parkersburg and Marietta had become the oil capitals of this region."
He noted that the majority of Marietta's growth occurred during the 1800s oil boom in Ohio.
"Most of the large homes built in Marietta are Victorian style homes because they were built during the oil boom in the 1880s," James said, adding that Peoples Bank was founded during the oil boom as well as the petroleum engineering department at Marietta College.
"Marietta is the only small liberal arts college in the world that has a petroleum engineering department," he said. "Today 25 percent of Marietta College students study petroleum engineering or geology."
James said the U.S. relies heavily on energy, and when energy sources are low, the economy also drops, which makes exploration for domestic oil and gas resources important.
"One hundred billion dollars worth of oil is produced in this country now, so that's $100 billion we're not spending overseas," he said.
Now in Ohio oil and gas companies have spent $18 billion on exploration of the state's oil-rich Utica shale beds, James said.
"And there's no guarantee that this will work," he said. "Our area will produce oil and gas, but the debate is whether these companies will be able to show profits from this activity."
James said if the oil and gas pay off, everyone will benefit, whether they're directly involved with the industry or not.