Local area poised for gas drilling

PARKERSBURG – Over the past several years, the Parkersburg area has become more and more involved in this region’s growing involvement in natural gas development and production in the Marcellus and Utica shale deposits.

At present, Parkersburg is serving primarily as a source of goods and services relating to the natural gas production efforts, but could become a site for drilling and production in the future.

Cam Huffman, president and CEO of the Area Roundtable in Parkersburg, said much of the development and production of the Marcellus Shale gas reserves is occurring to the north and east.

Until recently, it was believed that Wood County was on the edge of the Marcellus and Utica shale deposits. However, that drilling is now moving into Wood County as companies are looking at the local area and learning that there is more Marcellus here than was originally believed, he said.

After years of development and preparation work, Huffman said natural gas production is well underway throughout the region encompassing much of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia and some of that may be coming to the Wood County area.

“There is permitting that is starting to go on now within Wood County, for oil and gas,” he said, referring to the process required to obtain approval to conduct drilling operations. “So once those permits get done and they start actually drilling those wells, we’ll start seeing those impacts here as well,” he said.

During the first oil boom of the region in the 19th Century, Parkersburg’s location and status as a rail and river transportation hub helped bring money and expansion to the city, resulting in its growth from a small town to a prosperous city. The highway systems built in the 20th Century continued to support business for decades.

Parkersburg’s location along the highway corridors like U.S. 50 and Interstate 77 is helping with the current growth and will continue to be a factor in the natural gas boom. Huffman said Parkersburg is the largest metropolitan center for much of the regional area served by those two arteries, so a lot of money is coming down them and a lot of goods and services are returning up them, he said.

The natural gas development is also impacting other business sectors, such as the recent growth in hotel construction in the area. There are also impacts on the service industry, vehicle maintenance, equipment storage and repair, food service and others, Huffman said.

“It’s really a very large swath of impacted services,” he said.

As part of his economic development work, Huffman said he is also seeing more interest in the local area from other industries, both related to the natural gas industry and in non-related sectors.

A cracker plant is used to develop other products from ethane, one of the products of natural gas drilling. Huffman said Wood County remains under consideration for such a facility, but there is also a lot of interest in the area from other types of industries.

“For instance, I do not have any industrial buildings that are vacant right now. Everything that we have is in use and I have four companies I’m talking to that are looking to build buildings in the area, within Wood County,” he said.

“All indications, not just for Wood County – but for the region, West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania – are seeing a resurgence of interest in the area,” Huffman said.

Frank Deem, a longtime oil and gas developer in the region, said he has been following news and developments regarding Marcellus Shale development for the past several years.

He said more and more impacts are being seen in the Parkersburg/Wood County area and beyond, citing the Antero pipeline project in Pleasants, Tyler and Ritchie counties and other potential pipeline projects in the region.

“The economic impact of Marcellus is going to be tremendous,” Deem said.

Everything he has read and learned is predicting a big economic impact for the region in the future, Deem said, adding the impact could be much higher than what is currently forecast or expected as Marcellus development continues and expands.

In one study he has read, Deem said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has predicted that Marcellus employment in West Virginia could reach 29,000 by 2020 and then double to 58,000 by 2035.

“Marcellus is for real,” he said.

There are more and more drilling permits being applied for throughout the region, especially to the north and west of Wood County, including Ritchie, Tyler and others, Deem said. He believes the local area will continue to have an important role in the future, both as a hub and as a provider of goods and services to the growing Marcellus industry.