By PATRICK MORRISEY
CHARLESTON -- As I spend time traveling around our great state, I never stop being impressed by her natural beauty.
Between our borders, we’re blessed to have a little bit of everything – rolling hills, rich forests, rivers that snake along for miles, and mountains that can give us the breathtaking views to see it all.
We’re fortunate to call such a beautiful place home, and I feel a great sense of pride in knowing people from across the country visit to see it themselves.
While it’s well-known that West Virginia is a leader in tourism, I believe we’re on the cusp of becoming a national, if not a world leader, in something else: Natural gas. Our state sits directly in the heart of the rich Marcellus Shale gas field, and less than a decade after companies began to explore for this resource, our state already has begun to reap the benefits.
Farmers have found a new way to use previously fallow parts of their land. Counties have seen investment in their infrastructure. People are receiving royalty checks from their produced natural gas, and they’re spending that money in their local communities. And, let’s not forget about the jobs.
Each of those Marcellus Shale wells brings direct and indirect employment — from the scientists and engineers who determine where to drill and the rig workers who work in the field, to the service company who supplies drill bits and the convenience store cashiers who sell drillers their coffee on the way to work. The potential for jobs in our state is virtually limitless.
Even though our state has a long, rich history with oil and gas development, the development of technologies like directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing have been the true game-changers for unlocking our state’s true natural gas potential. Because of our state’s unique topography, accessing these large pockets of natural gas wouldn’t have been possible before.
Now, through careful planning, companies are able to drill down several thousand feet and direct their drilling to reach the gas from another place. This also helps companies reduce the total footprint from their extraction activities. A smaller area to drill means a smaller overall impact to those hills we know and love.
Along the road to being a leader in domestic energy, there will be challenges we will have to overcome. We must, as a state, approach these challenges with ideas for the kinds of solutions that will balance responsible environmental stewardship and economic development. Both of these goals are achievable.
We must not forget in the pursuit of energy independence that it’s absolutely critical for the companies who do business in our state to operate in careful, responsible manner, and they must do their level best to protect the natural resources above the ground with as much zeal as they would protect those under it.
The development of natural gas shouldn’t come at the destruction of our natural resources, and it’s my hope that the companies we welcome to do business in this state share this philosophy.
By the same token, our Office will do what it can to make sure that companies which act responsibly do not become victim to federal regulatory overreach from the Environmental Protection Agency.
While every industry has bad actors that should be punished for their actions, it’s wrong to put cumbersome regulations on companies that do things the right way. It’s unfair for a federal agency to overstep its boundaries and place millions of dollars of unnecessary costs on these companies.
Additionally, it puts West Virginia’s role as a leader in our nation’s race for energy independence at risk.
I see our state’s great potential as I drive along the Ohio River in our state’s Northern Panhandle. I see it when I drive along U.S. Route 50 where the hillsides are dotted with drilling rigs and pipelines to move the natural gas out.
I see potential when Brazilian company Odebrecht announced it was considering Wood County as a place to build an ethane cracker and other processing facilities – all because of the bounty the Marcellus Shale has provided us.
I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for West Virginia to be a leader in the nation’s energy future. We have the talent, we have the raw materials, and we have the drive to do what it takes.
Morrisey is the Attorney General of West Virginia.