Guest Essays, Letters to the Editor, Opinion

Guest essay: Gas and oil vital to West Virginia’s economy and future

by Charlie Burd

This year has been a challenging one. The pandemic has affected all of us, and our industry, much like every sector, is adapting. While many more challenges lie ahead, we also see opportunities.

One such opportunity has come to fruition with the Gas & Oil Association of West Virginia (GO-WV), the merger of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia (IOGAWV) and the West Virginia Oil & Natural Gas Association (WVONGA).

For years, I was IOGAWV’s executive director, and I’m proud of its accomplishments — from legislative victories to industry landmarks. At the same time, I watched WVONGA doing wonderful work that amplified an important voice in the Mountain State. Over time, it became clear our missions were the same — to move West Virginia forward and support its economic lifeblood, the natural gas industry.

This merger affirms our industry and our state are stronger. I’m proud to be a part of this new milestone.

We’re better positioned now to advocate for public policy that will help grow this vital industry. We also have a unified voice when it comes to publicizing our industry’s positive economic and environmental impact on this state, region and nation in terms of investment, jobs, and revenue generation.

Similar to what our individual member companies are doing with their businesses, GO-WV will create operational efficiencies and savings at a time when commodity prices are depressed.

Throughout 2020, we’ve talked about our “moment of clarity.” We’ve seen the need for a stronger manufacturing industry within the United States, and we know oil and natural gas provides critical support for that endeavor. According to the American Chemistry Council (ACC), the opportunity in the petrochemical sector alone could result in an economic expansion of $28 billion per year and result in the creation of over 100,000 jobs in the Appalachian region.

The natural gas industry continues to be an economic cornerstone in West Virginia, and its potential is enormous. The Mountain State is the seventh largest U.S. natural gas producer, and we rank fourth in proven gas reserves. GO-WV will advocate for contemporary governing policies that prepare West Virginia to be ready when market conditions improve and to attract essential risk capital help West Virginia realize the potential of the natural gas industry.

The natural gas industry is the state’s top-paying sector. The American Petroleum Institute (API) estimates that the natural gas and oil industry supports more than 71,000 jobs in West Virginia, and the estimated wages associated with these jobs are more than $3.5 billion. And natural gas users — households, businesses, manufacturers — have saved $1.1 trillion since 2008 because natural gas production increased in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Our industry is responsible for more than $4 billion in state severance and property tax revenue since 2008.

That doesn’t mean we don’t face glaring challenges. Commodity prices are decreasing. Prices will remain low for the foreseeable future. The economy will struggle as we work to recover from the pandemic’s toll.

That means it’s critical to embrace policies that encourage the use of natural gas in West Virginia. We must adopt policies that make West Virginia competitive with its neighboring states.

We must work to encourage new facilities that will use our products within the state and boost investment and employment. Downstream investment represents a huge economic multiplier.

Natural gas producers and natural gas utilities cannot succeed alone. Companies in the state’s natural gas industry have come to see the strength in shared success.

This industry’s potential is enormous. We’re dedicated to reducing our carbon footprint. We’re dedicated to providing cost-effective energy to power homes and businesses.

More folks should be celebrating that. West Virginia has been an energy leader for decades, and we can continue that legacy. We can take pride in being a clean energy leader as we take advantage of the opportunities right in front of us.

That’s part of the reason we created GO-WV. We want a unified voice as we spread our message throughout the state and beyond.

Charlie Burd is the executive director of the Gas & Oil Association of West Virginia (GO-WV).