WHEELING - Discussion of West Virginia's new storage tank regulations and a federal government crackdown on worker exposure to dust from hydraulic fracturing will be among the highlights when natural gas industry leaders gather in Wheeling next week for the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association's inaugural ShaleSafe Conference and Expo.
The conference will be held Monday through Wednesday at Oglebay Park.
While safety issues are a part of most industry conferences, ShaleSafe is unusual in making the topic its sole focus, according to the association's safety committee chairman, Jason Porter, who is an employee of Apex Pipeline Services.
"That's everybody's main concern and goal, that their employees go home at the end of the day," Porter said. "There are dangers with anything that we do ... but I think this industry requires that we focus on our tasks and we don't become complacent."
A Tuesday afternoon session will feature a presentation on spill containment - an issue that gained enormous attention after the Jan. 9 Freedom Industries chemical leak that tainted the drinking water of more than 300,000 people in southern West Virginia. Although the leak wasn't related to gas production, the fallout from it - namely, tighter regulation of storage tanks - is sure to affect the industry.
"We had been working on that well before the Freedom Industries incident, but I think that one will be of particular interest because it will cover (Senate Bill 373) ... and how it will impact the drillers and contractors," Porter said.
Also Tuesday, attendees will hear the story of Brian Livingston, who nearly died in an Oklahoma well site explosion caused by taking an irresponsible shortcut.
A highlight of Wednesday's schedule is a panel discussion on silica. The Occupational Safety and Health administration is in the process of gathering public input on proposed new rules restricting worker exposure to the substance which, when inhaled regularly, can lead to silicosis, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease.
According to OSHA, the sand used during the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process can be composed of as much as 99 percent silica.
Jimmy Gianato, West Virginia's director of homeland security and emergency management, is scheduled to be Wednesday's lunch keynote speaker.
According to show manager Rebecka Hogue, Oglebay made perfect sense as a venue for the first ShaleSafe conference.
"It's in the middle of the activity at this point, and we like to make sure (our conferences) are in locations that are easy for our folks to attend," Hogue said.
Scott Schenerlein, director of sales and conference services for Oglebay, said the gas industry has helped the park maintain a healthy conference schedule.
"It's been good for us," he said.
Conferences aren't the only way Oglebay is benefiting from the shale rush, however.
In 2009, the park signed a lease with Chesapeake Energy and the park received its first royalty check - which it split with the City of Wheeling - late last year.