For well more than a century, the coal, natural gas and oil industries have been vital contributors to West Virginia's economy. Yet ever-advancing technology has raised new questions about them and their relationship to Mountain State residents - and those issues need to be addressed.
That is a major part of the goal of a new initiative at West Liberty University, the Institute for Energy and Commerce.
WLU President Robin Capehart announced the institute Tuesday, noting the university is "well-positioned to lead (a) regional and national discussion" of the future of the coal and gas industries.
That certainly is an accurate assessment. Thousands of area residents have direct links to energy companies, either by working at mines or gas company facilities or by having signed mineral rights leases.
One function of the institute will be to serve as a liaison with energy companies to develop new academic programs at WLU in a manner similar to what the university did a few years ago in working with health care providers to develop a physician's assistant program.
Clearly, that aspect of the institute's work will benefit both area residents and energy companies.
But it is the second part of the institute's mission that is more important strategically.
As Capehart explained, the institute also will be engaged in research "on issues surrounding the role of the energy industy in the economic future of our state and nation." Safety, environmental concerns and economic impacts will be examined.
Researchers at WLU and from institutions of higher learning throughout the country will be involved, Capehart noted. An Industry Council chaired by Chris Hamilton, senior vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, will work with the institute.
In part because WLU is in the heart of a coal- and gas-producing region, its research may have added depth and credibility. The university, after all, is part of the economy and the environment affected by the energy industry.
WLU's intitiative is praiseworthy for that very reason - that the energy industry is exceedngly important in the lives of area residents.