Pipeline Work Moving Steadily Across Valley

WHEELING –Pipeline work to move Marcellus and Utica shale natural gas continues in nearly every corner of the Upper Ohio Valley, as new data show the industry supported more than 333,000 jobs in Ohio and West Virginia in 2015, while contributing nearly $46 billion to the two states’ economies.

Meanwhile, there are several billion dollars’ worth of interstate pipeline projects that are in some stage of development, whether they are still in the permitting process or construction is ongoing.

These include the $5.1 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the $3 billion Atlantic Sunrise, the $1.4 billion Leach XPress, the $2 billion Nexus Pipeline, the $4.3 billion Rover Pipeline, the $3.5 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline and the $2 billion Mountaineer XPress.

These giant pipeline systems do not include the “transmission lines” that move natural gas from well sites and processing plants to the interstate pipelines, nor do they count the “gathering lines” that connect individual well sites to transmission lines.

For several years, pipeliners have been working in both northern West Virginia and eastern Ohio.

This work, combined with drilling and fracking, was part of the 10.3 million jobs and $1.3 trillion impact the industry made throughout the U.S. in 2015, according to the Washington, D.C.-based American Petroleum Institute.

In fact, the API shows the number of jobs the natural gas industry supports has grown by 500,000 since 2011.

The average salary for one of these jobs is $101,181, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Natural gas and oil touches virtually every facet of our life – from heating our homes and fueling transportation to life-saving medical devices and cosmetics at the drug store,” API President and CEO Jack Gerard said. “Policies that promote the responsible development of our nation’s vast energy resources aren’t solely economic, but also further U.S. security and environmental stewardship.”

In West Virginia — as companies such as Southwestern Energy Co., Antero Resources, Consol Energy, EQT Corp., Chevron and others work to produce natural gas — API said the industry accounted for 70,900 jobs, while adding $8 billion to the state economy, in 2015.

“This is impactful information and validates what the West Virginia oil and natural gas industry has known for some time: that this industry is an economic driver for the state and its citizens,” West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association Executive Director Anne Blankenship said. “This industry’s ripple effect – in terms of jobs, community support, tax base, etc. — is becoming more like a tidal wave, and we’re proud to play a part in moving West Virginia forward.”

In Ohio, drillers such as Gulfport Energy, Ascent Resources, XTO Energy and Eclipse Resources join EQT, Antero and Consol to frack in the woods. Statistics from API indicate 262,800 Ohio jobs connected to natural gas contributed $37.94 billion to the state’s economy in 2015.

“Industry jobs within and throughout the supply chain, in addition to billions of dollars in value added to all sectors of the state’s economy as a result of oil and natural gas development, are a bright spot for all Ohioans,” API Ohio Executive Director Christian Zeigler said. “The benefits Ohio’s oil and natural gas industry provides the state are immense.”

Recently, EQT agreed to pay $6.7 billion to acquire the Ohio assets of Rice Energy, the company that had numerous prolific wells named after monster trucks throughout Belmont County.

“Rice is an outstanding strategic and operational fit for us and we anticipate the combined entities will capture significant operating efficiencies, improve overall well economics, and deliver stronger returns to our shareholders. With our asset position in one of the most prolific natural gas basins in the world, we remain confident in our ability to drive both near and long-term value creation,” EQT President and CEO Steve Schlotterbeck said in the company’s second quarter earnings statement.

According to the International Energy Agency, U.S. natural gas production is expected to grow by nearly 3 percent per year through 2022, with a large chunk of the increase coming from the Marcellus and Utica shale plays.

While each of the interstate pipelines in question has faced some public opposition and regulatory scrutiny, the Rover Pipeline has seen its work in West Virginia halted by the Department of Environmental Protection.

The project has also faced delays because of problems in the Buckeye State, as Ohio Environmental Protection Agency regulators believe work on the project led to the release of 2 million gallons of drilling slurry near the Tuscarawas River.

“We continue to work with the West Virginia DEP to resolve these issues in a manner that is satisfactory to all parties. Construction continues in West Virginia in Hancock County and Marshall County. We are complying with the DEP, and have stopped construction at the areas noted in the order,” Rover spokeswoman Alexis Daniel said.

On July 21, meanwhile, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued an environmental report that Atlantic Coast Pipeline developers believe will allow them to receive final approval this year. Leslie Hartz serves as vice president of engineering and construction for Dominion Resources, the chief proprietors of the ACP.

“The favorable environmental report released today provides a clear path for final approval of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline this fall. The report concludes that the project can be built safely and with minimal long-term impacts to the environment,” Hartz said. “With this report, the region moves one step closer toward a stronger economy, a more secure energy supply and a cleaner environment.”


This article was authored by Casey Junkins for the Wheeling Intelligencer. Click here to read it on the publication's website.