Billions Already Spent on Drilling And Fracking

Photo by Casey Junkins Natural gas drilling rigs continue grinding into the Marcellus and Utica shale in eastern Ohio and northern West Virginia.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Through Friday, The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register present the Ohio Valley’s top 10 stories of 2017, as voted on by the newspapers’ editors.

WHEELING –As a region flush with coal, oil and natural gas reserves beneath the ground’s surface, billions of dollars worth of investment continue flowing into northern West Virginia and eastern Ohio for mining, drilling, fracking, pipelining and processing.

As 2017 closes, the wait is on to see how the announcement by China Energy to spend $83.7 billion to build petrochemical plants and electricity generators in West Virginia will unfold in 2018 and beyond. The proposed PTT Global Chemical ethane cracker for Belmont County, meanwhile, a project with an estimated price tag of up to $6 billion, will eventually realize an affirmative or negative decision, as well.

Still, even before these “downstream” investments, new pipelines continue to be built, new wells are being drilled and fracked, and more coal continues to be shipped out of the region.

Drilling, Fracking and Pipelining

Virtually anywhere one goes in the Upper Ohio Valley, he or she will likely see signs of the oil and natural gas industry. Whether one sees rigs rising above the horizon in Belmont County, pipelines being installed in Marshall County, pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles parked at hotels in Ohio County, flaring at processing plants in Harrison County, or “sand can” trucks traveling between fracking operations along highways, the signs are clear.

Now, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Belmont County features more permitted horizontal wells than any of the state’s other 87 counties. For several years, Carroll County led the way with the most drilling operations.

According to industry leaders, one of the significant impediments to growth in recent years has been the lack of interstate pipeline infrastructure to transport natural gas to market. As 2017 draws to a close, this appears to be on its way to resolution. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has given approval to multiple pipelines, including:

∫ the 36-inch diameter Nexus Pipeline, which will travel 255 miles to connect the Marcellus and Utica shale region to the Detroit area at a cost of nearly $2 billion for developer, Spectra Energy;

∫ the $4.3 billion Rover Pipeline, which will ship up to 3.25 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day in pipe up to 42 inches in diameter from West Virginia and Ohio to Michigan;

∫ the $3.5 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline, which would run southward from the MarkWest Mobley plant in Wetzel County toward Virginia; and

∫ the $5.1 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which is planned to be 564 miles long with the 42-inch pipeline diameter in stretching from West Virginia to North Carolina.

China Energy and PTT

In November, West Virginia officials announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding with China Energy, witnessed by President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping while in Beijing.

John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at WVU, said Thursday the state’s annual gross domestic product is about $75 billion. Therefore, the $83.7 billion investment would be more than the entire value of all goods and services generated in the state for a year.

“It could be one big ethane cracker, or it could be a couple of smaller ethane crackers,” West Virginia University Energy Institute Director Brian Anderson said of China Energy’s potential petrochemical plants. “They are looking at several different projects.”

Moreover, West Virginia Secretary of Commerce Woody Thrasher has said two of the early projects likely to be funded via the China Energy investment are natural gas-fired electricity generators in Brooke and Harrison counties.

On the other side of the Ohio River, officials continue waiting to see if PTT will ultimately build the massive ethane cracker at Dilles Bottom. If the project comes to fruition, officials expect it to create about 6,000 construction jobs, as well as hundreds of permenant jobs once it enters the operational phase.

Coal Mining

The most recent U.S. Energy Information Administration data show that Murray Energy Corp. became the fourth-largest coal producer in the nation during 2016. In 2017, Murray Chairman, President and CEO Robert Murray joined President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C. when Trump signed an executive order to overturn the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, a measure Murray fought because he said it would force electricity producers to abandon coal burning.

The Clean Power Plan required electricity companies in Ohio and West Virginia to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by an average of 37 percent. The easiest and cheapest way for power companies to achieve this was to reduce the burning of coal because of the mineral’s high carbon content.

“Obama is the greatest destroyer America has ever had,” Murray told The Intelligencer in 2017. “Once a coal-fired power plant is closed, it’s closed.”

Murray operates several coal mines throughout the U.S., including the Century Mine near Beallsville, the Ohio County Mine near Benwood, the Marshall County Mine near Cameron, the Monongalia County Mine near Blacksville, W.Va., the Harrison County Mine near Clarksburg, W.Va., and the Marion County Mine near Mannington, W.Va.

Murray said a typical miner in his company receives the equivalent of about $90,000 per year when accounting for benefits and overtime pay.

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