PARKERSBURG - The glut of natural gas surplus is good news for consumers who could see prices as low as a $1 this summer, and it's not necessarily bad news for shale drilling in the area, according to a state development official.
Keith Burdette, cabinet secretary for the West Virginia Department of Commerce, said surpluses shouldn't have a negative impact on Marcellus and Utica Shale drilling in the state or the development of gas-related industries.
"The low cost of natural gas has had some marginal impact on drilling, but a positive impact on other manufacturing operations."
Burdette said companies that rely on low-cost energy are going to have a field day with the prices.
"A strong, energy-reliant company is in the cat bird's seat because gas is readily available at a record-breaking low."
Monday, the Associated Press detailed the country's surplus of natural gas and the subsequent slowdown by producers as prices hit a 10-year low. Citigroup commodities analyst Anthony Yuen told the Associated Press the price of natural gas - now $2.08 per 1,000 cubic feet - could briefly fall below $1.
Since October, the number of drilling rigs exploring for natural gas has fallen by 30 percent. Some of the sharpest dropoffs have been in the shale regions of northwest Louisiana, east Texas and central Arkansas.
Burdette said the gas industry is divided by wet and dry gas. He noted dry gas has no other properties other than natural gas, whereas wet gas has additional properties, such as ethane and butane, that can be extracted and utilized. The shale regions in the area are rich in wet gas.
Burdette said about 75 percent of the state is covered by Marcellus and Utica shale regions, and about 40 percent of that area contains wet gas. Because of that companies have not slowed in their interest and development in the state.
"What has happened is there continues to be a fairly robust effort in the drilling efforts in Marcellus and Utica regions," he said. "You still have companies investing billions in the wet zone."
He said energy officials are not wavering with plans to develop and grow.
Burdette officials are still working to land a cracker plant and other gas-related industries into the state. Parkersburg is still in competition for a cracker, but a decision on that won't come until later this year, according to Burdette.
"If a cracker were to be announced today, it would not go online for four and half years," Burdette said. "You are looking at 2016 at the earliest. We think prices will come back up a little bit, maybe not a lot, but a little bit."
"We are spending lots of time with those folks," he said. "I'm optimistic things will work out."
Burdette said state officials are also talking with a smaller company that could fill in some gaps in the state's gas development industry.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.