Michael McCown: Protect Gas Industry from Overregulation

Charleston Gazette
4 April 2011

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As president of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia, I represent an industry that makes it possible for almost 35,000 West Virginians to have high-paying jobs with excellent benefits.

Recently, some elected officials in West Virginia have decided that they would put those 35,000 jobs in jeopardy. With our state unemployment rate hovering around 10 percent, now is not the time to be threatening West Virginia jobs. Now is a time to be creating jobs, and the West Virginia natural gas industry has the potential to create 7,000 new jobs.

The natural gas industry is one of the leading growth industries in our state. If we were to halt drilling for natural gas it would have devastating consequences to our economy. We are in direct competition for the production of natural gas with other states in our region, namely Pennsylvania. If we make it more difficult for production to occur here, companies will move their operations out of West Virginia and it will cost our workers their jobs and their livelihoods.

The natural gas industry supports reasonable and measured regulation. We have supported reasonable permit fees increases so that the Department of Environmental Production can hire more inspectors. We spent six months working with the Department of Transportation to create the Department of Highways Oil and Gas Road Policy and we continue to work with DEP on water quality issues.

We welcome additional regulation, but we must ensure that it is done in a manner that continues make the production of natural gas in West Virginia attractive to companies.

We want to ensure production is done in a safe and environmentally friendly manner. Natural gas is the cleanest of all fossil fuels, and 99 percent of the natural gas we use comes from North America. Producing natural gas simply is the best energy choice for the environment because its production leaves a minimal lasting footprint. Producing natural gas is also the best choice for our country because the production will allow us to stop depending so much on foreign sources of energy.

West Virginia is poised to be the country's leader in natural gas production. Currently, 53 of West Virginia's 55 counties have natural gas operations. Including the Marcellus formation, we have over 100 trillion cubic feet of proven natural gas reserves right here in West Virginia. We need to protect our abundant source of homegrown energy so we can take full advantage of this energy and economic boom.

The development of the Marcellus formation is essential to the future of the natural gas industry and the future of West Virginia. Due to the recent industry activity, the amount of property tax the industry pays out has more than doubled since 2005, with 2010 payouts being over $105 million. This is money that goes directly into our local communities, namely our public school system. With the Marcellus development we are able to drastically reduce the number of well sites. One Marcellus well is approximately equivalent to 15 conventional wells and multiple wells are drilled on one site, meaning the footprint and impact on the environment is greatly reduced.

West Virginia is at a crossroads right now. If we take the unnecessary and drastic step of halting the drilling of natural gas it will take years, if not decades, for us to realize the economic success we have before us right now. The DEP has stated that they have the necessary resources to regulate the industry currently, so we need to proceed with production. We must not only keep our men and women working, but create an environment that will put thousands more to work in the years to come. This is the time where we have to make the decision to move forward and allow progress to lead us into the future.

McCown, of Clarksburg, is president of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia.