West Virginia natural gas industry sees steady production

Seeing job growth as well as lower prices

WHEELING — A report says consumers are the winners with lower natural gas prices.

“Powering West Virginia” by the Consumer Energy Alliance says the natural gas industry has realized relatively steady production and even job growth as opposed to the downturn in the coal industry in 2012.

Chris Ventura, executive director of the alliance, said the alliance’s latest report said natural gas cost consumers $10 per mcf or 1,000 cubic feet in 2006 compared to $4 per mcf today.

Ventura, who said increased production of the Marcellus and Utica shale formations has made West Virginia as the seventh-largest natural gas producing state in the country, also disputes that most of the natural gas industry jobs here have gone to out-of-state workers.

“Since 2010, West Virginia’s core shale-related industry employment increased 77.54 percent,” Ventura said.

That represents nearly 12,000 West Virginians, Ventura said. He also said the industry trucks bearing out-of-state license plates are fleet vehicles from the drilling and pipeline companies.

“That doesn’t mean all the workers driving those trucks are from out of state,” he said.

According to the latest CEA study, oil and gas pipeline construction jobs in West Virginia grew from almost 1,800 at the end of 2016 to 5,130 by the end of the third quarter in 2017 — a 185 percent increase.

Also, since 2010, the severance tax on natural gas extraction has provided $865.8 million to state and local governments in West Virginia.

The report suggests the future of the Mountain State’s energy resources and its pipeline network is under attack by out-of-state activists, some reportedly funded by foreign governments.

Ventura said the future success of the energy industry in West Virginia hinges on the ability to safely transport the oil and natural gas pulled from ground. Increased partnerships with technical and trade schools also are vital for providing workers trained in the trades.

“The industry has been begging for welders,” he said.

Consumer Energy Alliance, which has a membership that includes nearly 300 business, agriculture, energy providers and suppliers — plus academic groups and 500,000 grassroots members — seeks the ongoing support of lawmakers and regulators.

“They have been consistent in their regulations and support. … They take into account environmental effects,” Ventura said. “Regulators have maintained a pretty sound approach.”

He reiterated the importance of their support to facilitate the construction and expansion of pipelines while caring for the environment.