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Energy industry faces obstacles despite successes (WV News)

1/20/2019

CHARLESTON — While the various sectors of the energy industry operating in West Virginia have seen great progress, they still must respond to challenges in getting product to market.

The industry’s successes and obstacles were discussed at the recent West Virginia Energy Infrastructure Summit in Charleston, organized by Energy Speaks.

The summit featured panels on issues ranging from the economic impact of the Marcellus and Utica shales to security technology.

West Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts reflected on the energy industry’s growing impact, noting that 22-25 percent of all the state’s economic activity is centered around energy production. He encourage industry reps in attendance to keep up the momentum.

“We need to go farther and we need to go faster,” Roberts said, “and I think we need to remind ourselves of that every day.”

Valerie Antonette, representing the National Association of Royalty Owners Appalachian Chapter, said relationships between energy companies and royalty and land owners have become much better the past few years.

Woody Thrasher, businessman and former state commerce secretary, spoke about the energy industry’s economic potential, saying the state’s natural gas resources could lead to economic diversification in the form of plastics manufacturing and other petrochemical industries if development of the Appalachia Storage and Trade Hub moves forward. He said thinking needs to shift from local to global.

Thrasher urged the gas industry and the state to take the initiative, lest jobs and businesses go elsewhere, and he warned against repeating the paradigm West Virginia has followed before with its natural resources: Exporting raw resources instead of value-added products.

“We’ve been cutting trees for centuries and don’t make furniture,” he remarked. “We’ve been mining metallurgical coal for a long time and don’t make a lot of steel. We do not want to make the same mistake.”

Bob Orndorff, state policy director for Dominion Energy, drew attention to problems facing the company’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline, work on which has been halted since December after a ruling by the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia in favor of environmental groups opposed to the project. This forced the company to lay off more than 4,000 workers just shy of the 2018 holiday season.

“We should be in operation today and we’re not in operation and we only have the environmentalists to blame,” Orndorff said, adding that his company has taken great steps to be responsible environmental stewards in its operations. “We don’t wake up in the morning thinking about what stream we’re going to pollute.”

He said pipeline projects are necessary to move the vast quantities of gas being produced to markets. Even though the pipeline construction jobs are temporary, employment in these projects has shot up by 435 percent in recent years.

Orndorff said the energy industry needs to work on promoting its image and getting out in front of environmental scrutiny to address concerns directly rather than keep a low profile until a controversy crops up, as has been the practice in the past.

Kevin DiGregorio, representing the Chemical Alliance Zone, said many people who are opposed to the energy industries might be willing to work with them if it was better illustrated how much actually comes from fossil fuels such as cell phone cases, eye glasses, carpets and fibers.

In other business, Charlie Burd, director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia, said the industry will be on the lookout for any attempts to raise severance tax revenue about the current 5 percent.

As an alternative to this, he suggested streamlining the permitting process. That way, more product can be produced and a higher production rate means the state can collect more tax revenue without raising the rate.

Business Editor Conor Griffith can be reached by at 304-395-3168 or by email at cgriffith@statejournal.com

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