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Gas boom’s impact on economy examined

BECKLY, WV – Wyoming County and West Virginia are expected to boom economically in the next few years due to the extraction of natural gas from the Utica shale formation, according to officials.

West Virginia Association of Counties and WVU Extension Service brought together numerous people from across the state recently to discuss the economic potential for West Virginia.

“Wyoming County has been, for several years, the largest natural gas-producing county east of the Mississippi,” David “Bugs” Stover, Wyoming County circuit clerk and a past president of the West Virginia Association of Counties, told those participating. “But recently we have watched all our rigs head north into Marcellus shale country.

“The gas (industry representatives) pointed out that the Utica shale play was already starting up and that Wyoming County has Utica,” Stover said after the meeting.

“We are talking an energy boom as large as the one in the Middle East and, in a couple years, coal will rebound — first, as a major export. West Virginia already doubles any other state in coal exports,” Stover said.

“We have to get this one right — economically, politically, and environmentally,” Stover emphasized. “If it gets extracted, we need to get more than a wage. We must wisely become an economic power in the world.

“This gas energy boom, and the chemical industry that is connected to it, along with the resurgence of coal can put us in the driver’s seat over the next decades,” Stover believes.

“We must be wise and get it right this time,” Stover emphasized.

Economically, Stover believes, the severance tax coming into Wyoming County from this gas will provide “any infrastructure we need.”

“We will also have people moving in and people moving out,” he said. “Our population numbers will grow.

“We’re going to see very large trucks, big gas rig trucks, moving on our roads,” he said.

Stover believes the county will begin to see this move to extract the Utica Shale natural gas in two to three years.

“We will be able to watch the northern counties for a couple of years and learn from what they do,” Stover said.

Among the panel involved in the state meeting were Marvin Murphy, West Virginia Division of Highways engineer; Kathy D’Antoni, associate superintendent of state schools; Dick Gardner, Bootstrap Solutions; and Sam Spofforth, Clean Fuels Ohio director.

Murphy discussed some the challenges the state Division of Highways will face as thousands of additional vehicles come onto state roadways as gas production increases. The equipment will include very large trucks and other pieces of heavy equipment that will put some wear on highways. He also noted some of the solutions energy companies are helping to find, Stover said of the meeting.

D’Antoni spoke of innovations such as curriculum changes to meet the workplace needs. In some schools, students are “running virtual corporations,” during which every move affects the company’s bottom line as well as the student’s grade. She also said students who participate in these classes are subject to random drug tests, just as in the workplace, and that many of the students want testing on a regular basis with a “drug-free certificate” provided with their diploma and other certifications.

Gardner discussed ways to get in on the economic boom without having to form a “mega-corporation,” Stover said.

Spofforth talked about the economics of companies using natural gas for large fleets of vehicles.

“We have to be on our toes with this one,” Stover said. “We’ll have to learn from others’ mistakes. We have to get this right.” ___

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