The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

December 22, 2013

Moving up

The Register-Herald

— The coal industry’s well-documented problems notwithstanding, there was positive news last week for West Virginia in the area of energy extraction.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration announced that the state had broken into the Top 10 in the production of natural gas.

West Virginia ranks No. 10 among American producers, increasing its production by 37 percent over the previous year. The only state to raise production at a higher rate was Pennsylvania, which recorded an astonishing increase of 72 percent.

Texas was far and away the top natural gas producer in the United States, followed by Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Colorado, federal offshore production, New Mexico and Arkansas.

Both West Virginia and Pennsylvania are producing natural gas from the Marcellus shale formation. The use of innovative techniques to extract oil and gas, like fracking, have opened up new arenas for energy production, like the Marcellus formation.

This is good news for the state, and good news for the nation.

Domestic production of oil and gas will continue to free the United States from the grip of dependence on oil from OPEC countries, including those in the increasingly volatile Middle East, such as Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Other nations in the cartel include Libya, Algeria and Venezuela.

Some of these countries are lukewarm allies of America, and others are outright enemies. Some seem to be both, at the same time.

In addition, the EIA notes, higher production of natural gas means lower prices. Those lower prices and the greater availability of natural gas mean West Virginia can begin to attract natural-gas intensive industries. Between 2012 and 2025, “industrial natural gas consumption is projected to grow by 22 percent,” the EIA reports.

These higher production rates also mean the United States can export pipeline and liquefied natural gas, earning valuable revenues that will help continue to narrow our international trade deficit.

For example, U.S. pipeline and LNG exports to Mexico and Canada will increase significantly between now and 2040, according to the EIA.

In southern West Virginia, there is a downside. Projected low prices for natural gas “make it a very attractive fuel for new (electrical) generating capacity,” in many cases replacing coal-fired power plants.

We will note for the record that much of that financial attractiveness is based on harsh federal regulatory changes such as carbon capture and storage that make coal too expensive to be considered as fuel for many new domestic power plants.

Coal, given a fair chance, can become part of the mosaic of domestic energy production that can free us, not just from dependence on other nations, but make the United States a major energy exporter.

 Still, while the increase in natural gas extraction can only partly make up for job and revenue losses associated with coal production, it is a positive development for the state as West Virginia continues to move toward a more diverse economy.

Most of this increased gas production, and the jobs that come with it, have been in the northern part of the state. It is our hope that production areas expand in our direction in the coming years.

Increased natural gas production is showing positive results so far. It is our further hope that the drilling industry will increasingly fill its job openings with hard-working West Virginians.