HUNTINGTON – West Virginia has the potential to be a leader in the nation's energy sector, but challenges dot the landscape, according to the speakers at the 2006 Energy and Natural Resources Symposium.

Presented by the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce and Natural Resource Partners, the symposium was held Nov. 9 and featured a distinguished lineup of speakers from regional and national energy companies.

William Mark Hart, president and chief executive officer of the Vancouver-based West Hawk Development Corp., was the keynote speaker for the event and said West Virginia has the potential to be the energy hub for the eastern United States.

Hart, a Fairmont native, talked about the potential in coal gasification power plants, which produce fewer emissions than traditional coal-fired power plants.

Hart's company is currently involved in two coal gasification plants in Canada and thinks they are the wave of the future.

Later in the symposium, Tim Mallan of American Electric Power said his company is working to build a 600-megawatt coal gasification power plant in Mason County adjacent to its current Mountaineer plant. It could be completed by 2010.

While much of the talk at the symposium focused on coal, Scott Rotruck, director of corporate development for Chesapeake Energy, talked about his company's hope for the natural gas industry in West Virginia.

"Nothing is more important to the future of West Virginia than energy," Rotruck said. "We are very optimistic that there is a lot of natural gas left to be found."

Chesapeake Energy entered the West Virginia market in a big way in 2005 with its $2.2 billion purchase of Columbia Natural Resources.

Rob Jones, public relations director for the Jim C. Hamer Co. in Kenova, said that while great potential exists for energy producers, the very survival of wood products companies like his are threatened by trial lawyers.

As a result of floods in southern West Virginia in 2004, trial lawyers decided that the wood products industry was somehow responsible, Jones said. Because of the lawsuits against wood products companies that followed the floods and the spin-off effect of making liability insurance more expensive, timber companies are threatened, Jones said.

"Litigation is killing us," Jones said.

Paul Uselding, dean of the Lewis College of Business at Marshall University, spoke at the Energy Symposium as part of a panel discussion and said natural resources by themselves do not promote economic development.

"What West Virginia needs is an energy policy, an economic development policy, an environmental policy that work together. It is not one or the other."

Uselding also talked about the lack of a national energy policy.

"President Bush said we are a nation addicted to oil. We are like an alcoholic. We have an unnatural dependency on oil. The question now is, if we are an alcoholic, if we are oil addicted what are we going to do about it? WE have no national policy on energy. Maybe that's a good thing. Maybe we will see market solutions versus state planned solutions."

About 115 people attended the event, which was held in a meeting hall at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington.

In addition to the Huntington chamber and Natural Resource Partners, other sponsors of the symposium included Merrill Lynch, Marshall University, W.Va. American Water Co. and the law firm of Bowles, Rice, McDavid Graff, and Love.




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