During Wheeling Stop, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito Says Coal and Natural Gas are Both Needed

WHEELING — While some coal industry leaders believe natural gas development contributes to the loss of mining jobs, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said the nation will benefit from the largest possible output of both fossil fuels.

Holding a roundtable discussion with local leaders and industry officials at West Virginia Northern Community College Thursday, Capito, R-W.Va., said President Barack Obama and other Democrats seem determined to curtail or totally eliminate coal usage.

"I think there is room for both," coal and natural gas, Capito said after the session.

Largely due to growth in production from shale formations such as the Marcellus and Utica, U.S. natural gas production hit a record daily high of 80.2 billion cubic feet per day in September. However, Capito knows the chief problem facing the industry.

"We can't get it out. We can't get the resource out," she said of the glut of natural gas created by a lack of pipeline infrastructure. This leads some Ohio and West Virginia producers to sell their product for less than $1 per 1,000 cubic-foot unit, even when the price is about $2 per unit on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie, Regional Economic Development Partnership Executive Director Don Rigby, West Virginia Northern Community College petroleum technology professor Curt Hippensteel, WVNCC President Vicki Riley, EQT Corp. official Fred Dalena, Gastar Explorations engineer Tom Rowan and Eagle Manufacturing Business Development Manager Steve Roberts joined Capito for the discussion.

Dalena and Rowan emphasized their companies' needs to see more pipelines open.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission continues reviewing five major pipelines, collectively valued at about $15 billion, that would allow states such as West Virginia and Ohio a chance to reach their full potential as Marcellus and Utica producers: the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the Rover Pipeline, the Leach XPress Pipeline, the Mountain Valley Pipeline and the Nexus Pipeline.

Both Dalena and Rowan told Capito their companies are struggling because they need pipelines. Capito told them she is working to streamline the permitting process with FERC to get the conduits up and running as soon as possible.

While gas industry leaders focused on getting their products to larger markets, McKenzie and Rigby emphasized the need to ensure West Virginia residents get as much value as they can from the resource.

"What we don't want to do is see what happened in southern West Virginia where the coal was shipped onto railcars and sent elsewhere," McKenzie said.

"Our challenge is to get users for the product so that the price goes up, whether that's power plants, crackers, etc.," Rigby added.

Even though a $5.7 billion PTT Global Chemical ethane cracker is planned in Belmont County, Rigby said such a massive complex would consume plenty of West Virginia fuel, in addition to employing West Virginia workers. Rigby said after meeting with some PTT officials recently, he believes they are serious about the endeavor.

And Capito still holds out hope for a similar facility to be built in West Virginia.

"I don't think the Braskem project is dead," Capito said. Braskem is a subsidiary of Brazil-based Odebrecht, which announced plans in late 2013 to build an ethane cracker near Parkersburg.

Roberts said because there is no cracker in the Marcellus and Utica region, ethane now travels to Canada or to the Gulf Coast for cracking, which furthers economic development there. Capito is determined to harness this job-generating potential.

"We don't want to ship everything to Louisiana and Texas - no offense to Louisiana and Texas," she said.

By:  Casey Junkins
Source: The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register