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Experts at WVU discussion see bright WV natural gas future with the right policy implementation

West Virginia’s share of the Marcellus shale natural gas play could lead to a bright, job-filled, environmentally responsible future if appropriate policies are in place and investment in a multi-billion dollar “cracking” plant occurs, according to an impressive array of energy experts who added their input to a well-attended policy exploration event at West Virginia University.

The WVU College of Law’s Center for Energy and Sustainable Development, with support from the law firm of Steptoe & Johnson, sponsored an energy conference called Natural Gas as the Bridge to Sustainability and Economic Growth.

The conference explored policies aimed at stimulating the use of shale gas resources and focused on transportation issues, use of cogeneration for industrial electricity customers, exporting of natural gas and the potential for revitalization of the region’s chemical industry.

“WVU was founded with a goal of providing access to information and applying that knowledge to make a better society,” President Jim Clements. “WVU is on the cutting edge of research on alternative fuels, fuel cells, nanotechnology, water resource management, biomass conversions and increased energy efficiency. WVU will position the region as a global leader in safe and environmentally safe energy production. That is our responsibility and our privilege.”

Joyce McConnell, dean of the WVU College of Law, kicked off the conference and noted that under the leadership of the College’s James Van Nostrand, the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development has grown in three years to become a nationally recognized place for valuable law and policy studies associated with America’s energy challenges.

While acknowledging the “serious concerns about environmental impacts of shale gas development,” Van Nostrand said, “At the same time, we want to look at the best ways at achieving economic growth, lower transportation and energy costs.”

The discussion of a West Virginia “cracker” plant generated significant attention, with West Virginia Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette delivering an enthusiastic case for the facility. “Cracker” is industry lingo for a plant that takes natural gas and breaks it up into smaller molecules. An ethane cracker creates ethylene, a compound used in the manufacture of plastic and hundreds of household products.

He said the potential is a “generational opportunity” for progress in West Virginia.

“We have been an energy production leader for 150 years,” he said. “We took it out of the ground and shipped it away. This opportunity is a chance to get it right and do value-added development. One recent ranking placed West Virginia as the sixth best place in the world for oil and gas development.”

Bruce McKay, managing director for federal affairs with Dominion Resources, was one of the speakers making the case for development of natural gas exporting capabilities. He said permits for activation of a liquid natural gas exporting facility serving the West Virginia region located on the Chesapeake Bay remains stalled.

He said there is a growing foreign market for American liquefied natural gas, including in Japan where problems with nuclear facilities have led companies to make a commitment to buy vast quantities of American liquefied natural gas.

“More than 750 billion cubic feet of gas per day can be sold when the permit is approved and the facility opens,” McKay said. “That could support 12,400 jobs in Maryland’s Calvert County and bring in more than a billion dollars of associated labor income. Business sales in Maryland can be augmented by $3.8 billion.”

He said the facility is ideal to help distribute the natural gas from Marcellus Shale development. He predicted that with permitting in place, the facility could be in operation by 2017.

Other speakers called for policy attention to issues associated with natural gas vehicle refueling stations; institution of cogeneration facilities to increase power and heat production efficiency; and efforts associated with a cracking plant that could regenerate West Virginia’s once-thriving chemical industries.

David McCurdy, president and CEO of the American Gas Association and a former member of Congress, delivered the luncheon address. Other speakers included representatives of government, state energy policy commissions, gas companies and non-profit institutions.

Established in 2011, the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development conducts objective, unbiased research and policy analysis providing a form for issues explored by various stakeholders, and promotes policies that balance the demand for energy resources and reducing environmental impacts.



CONTACT: James Jolly; College of Law

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