BETHANY - The executive director of the Regional Economic Development Partnership said revenue-hungry border communities eventually may have to get creative to capture investment opportunities associated with the oil and gas industry.
Speaking at a roundtable discussion of the industry's impact on the region's business and economic development potential, RED's Don Rigby said it's hard to find developable properties in the tri-state area big enough to house projects of the magnitude of Shell Oil's planned multibillion-dollar ethane cracker. Shell's preferred site is minutes from the Northern Panhandle on an already developed 300-acre property in Monaca, Pa., with both river and rail access.
Hancock County had been in the running for the project, but fell short when the project's footprint grew beyond the original 250 acres Shell had asked for, encroaching on Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort's property.
Going forward, Rigby said development efforts at some point very likely will have to cross county and state lines if they are to be able to put together deals big enough to entice costly projects like Shell's cracker.
"I think we're going to have to look at ways of sharing taxes, ways of sharing property across state lines," Rigby said. "We're going to have to find ways to creatively make land."
But while the Northern Panhandle couldn't land Shell's cracker, Rigby said it's seeing plenty of other gas-related development, including cryogenic plants where the natural gas is cooled to sub-zero temperatures to condense the natural gas liquids and fractionation plants that finish processing the liquid hydrocarbon into high purity propane, butane and natural gasoline.
Rigby was one of six panelists taking part in the discussion.
Also on hand were Mindy Walls, senior director of corporate development for Chesapeake Energy; Michael Koon, vice president of Workforce Development and West Virginia Northern Community College; Joe Eddy, chairman of the West Virginia Manufacturer's Association and Eagle Manufacturing's president and CEO; Pat Ford, director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle; and Ken Zapinski Sr., vice president of Energy & Infrastructure, Allegheny Conference on Community Development.
Wall said a regional perspective is key.
"It's very important to look at the regional nature of the opportunity," she said, pointing out that Monaca "isn't that far away and the Utica shale isn't that far away."
Chesapeake's presence in the Northern Panhandle is hard to overlook: Walls said the company paid almost $46 million in taxes in West Virginia last year, along with nearly $5.7 million in sales and severance tax payments to Marshall County last year as well. They've also paid more than $206 million in bonuses since they began operating in Hancock, Brooke, Ohio and Marshall counties, she said, and in 2011 paid out almost $12 million in royalties in Marshall County alone.
The discussion, organized by the Brooke County Economic Development Authority, was held in Bethany College's Mountainside/Gresham Leadership Center. Co-sponsoring the event were Main Street Bank, the town of Bethany, the city of Weirton and the BDC.