Columns/Opinion, Editorials

Promise of big foreign investment in gas industry starting to look nebulous

No, eight months don’t make two decades.
But the size of the headlines in November, heralding an $83 billion investment in West Virginia over 20 years by China Energy, have shrunk.
That’s not to say they disappeared, but lately they look to be a lot less sensational.
Last week, executives from China Energy failed to show for a regional petrochemical conference, quelling hopes for news about their plans. Those plans included projects focused on power generation, chemical manufacturing and underground storage of natural gas liquids
and derivatives.
Since then there appears to be growing reason for concern whether this investment will ever live up to its promise.
Two of the first announced projects — proposed gas-fired power plants in Harrison and Brooke counties — were initially said to be among the first of China Energy’s investments.
The company behind those plants later said it’s not expecting any China Energy backing.
Then this year, in what started with tariffs on Chinese-made solar panels and washing machine, accelerated in March with tariffs on Chinese aluminum and steel, became an all-out trade war.
In mid-June the Trump administration slapped tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese goods, which Beijing has matched in a tit-for-tat showdown.
The governor discounted the recent resignation of the state’s Commerce secretary, who signed the memorandum of understanding with China Energy representatives.
But we cannot help but think he was probably better acquainted with these plans than anyone.
Then China Energy officials cancelled their visit at the Northeast U.S. Petrochemical Construction Conference, in Pittsburgh.
And all this comes on the heels of still no details about this investment or the sites being looked at for investment.
So, where does the China Energy memorandum of understanding stand today?
That’s a good question and rest assured it’s probably better than the answer you’ll get.
The governor would have us believe that this deal is safe because of his relationship with the president. WVU Energy Institute’s director assessed these developments as a “speed bump,” not a “road block.”
We hope this optimism is not misplaced, because our state looks to be on the rebound as this fiscal year ends. A small budget surplus looks to even be in the picture. It’s about time, too.
But if this impasse continues for long our economic recovery may be on a slow boat to China.