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West Virginia natural gas opens door to investment

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Marty Durbin Marty Durbin
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Marty Durbin is president  and CEO of America's Natural Gas Alliance.

If the Great Plains are the American Breadbasket, West Virginia is America's Power Strip. 

For well over a century, Americans have relied on the natural resources of West Virginia to power our homes, businesses and factories, and the state is synonymous with energy production.

This same energy expertise has made tapping into the potential of American shale gas possible — adding to the diversity of fuel sources West Virginia offers the nation. 

Production of natural gas in West Virginia increased an impressive 37 percent last year. Unconventional natural gas activity alone will add more than $4.5 billion to the state's economy next year — a figure that's expected to rise to $10.3 billion by 2035. 

The low cost and long-term abundance of natural gas means this fuel will help power our nation's economy for decades to come, all while saving consumers' money and creating jobs. For West Virginia that means jobs not only producing natural gas but also with the businesses and industries that use it.

We have an opportunity to bring manufacturing jobs home from overseas, and it's hard to overstate the role shale gas will playing in making that possible. Manufacturers — from chemicals to steel, plastics to fertilizer — are investing billions in U.S.-based facilities, citing reliable, affordable natural gas.

A robust pipeline infrastructure, access to the Ohio River, an abundance of energy and manufacturing feedstocks, and a population familiar with energy production all point to a West Virginia that is open for business.

Already we see the results. In what Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin called a "defining moment in the economic development of the Mountain State," the proposed massive Ascent petrochemical complex and ethane cracker in Wood County will utilize West Virginia shale gas as a key component for the plastics industry.

If completed, the project will be the single largest industrial project in state history. Ethane crackers typically come with a $2 billion price tag and hundreds of permanent jobs. And more facilities could be on the way due to new tax credits intended to attract more manufacturing facilities to West Virginia. 

Natural gas also offers the opportunity to provide affordable, reliable power generation and a low-cost, clean choice for transportation. In fact, Tomblin's Natural Gas Vehicle Taskforce has recommended that 25 percent of the state's fleet be converted to natural gas. 

Where can you drive these vehicles? In 2013 IGS Energy opened several new natural gas filling stations along West Virginia's I-79, creating a 150-mile corridor of natural gas refueling opportunities.

Like coal, the opportunities don't stop at your borders. Thanks to vast domestic supplies in West Virginia and 30 other gas-producing states, the U.S. is forecast to become a net natural gas exporter by 2016. Encouraging LNG exports through speedy terminal approvals will bring economic growth, with one study conducted for the Department of Energy projecting $4.4 billion in net U.S. economic benefits.  

Of course, development of more West Virginia energy means more job creation and economic growth. The Mountain State is one of the top 10 natural gas producing states in the nation. In fact, the safe and responsible production just of the newer unconventional gas supported nearly 17,000 West Virginia workers in 2010 — a figure that's expected to grow to nearly 72,000 by 2035. That's almost two and a half jobs for every student currently enrolled at West Virginia University.  

In my visits with West Virginia's business community during my first year as CEO of America's Natural Gas Alliance, I have witnessed a groundswell of support for natural gas.  I look forward to working with the local industry, state business and policy leaders and all stakeholders to make the most of the enormous economic opportunity that safe and responsible development of natural gas offers this state and our nation.