CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — Having a natural gas pipeline through Jefferson County has been a longtime goal for economic development, but the goal is on its way to becoming a reality as Mountaineer Gas recently announced its plans to extend a natural gas pipeline into the county.
John Reisenweber, executive director of the Jefferson County Development Authority, said he got the news about the project last week.
“I started pushing for (natural gas in Jefferson County) for the last four and a half years, since I started in this position. I know other people at the development authority have tried to get this for a long time. It’s been a goal for the last couple of decades,” he said. “I’m excited, and it’s a big win for Jefferson County.”
One of the factors that had hindered the project from happening sooner was the projected cost of running a natural gas pipeline through Jefferson County. Reisenweber said the Jefferson County Development Authority did a feasibility study three years ago, and he said one was done later with input from Berkeley County and Region 9. He said the cost estimates, up to $1.5 million per mile of pipe laid, were “quite disheartening.”
However, Reisenweber said the passage of Senate Bill 390 in the 2015 West Virginia Legislative session opened the door to the pipeline becoming a reality.
According to Corky DeMarco, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, Senate Bill 390 allows costs of natural gas infrastructure to be recovered. DeMarco said if the West Virginia Public Service Commission approves Mountaineer Gas’s request for expedited cost recovery, current Mountaineer customers will share the cost.
“Mountaineer has about a half a million residential gas customers across the state. That cost recovery will amount to pennies on each bill. If Mountaineer overpays for the project, there will be cost recovery, but if Mountaineer underpays, the customer’s bill will be reduced,” he said.
DeMarco said energy companies tend to prioritize where they will work based on the population of an area. In some areas of the state, he said, it “doesn’t make sense” for a company like Mountaineer Gas to put in a pipeline if there is not a large enough customer base.
“The Eastern Panhandle is not only an underserved area, it’s a growing area, both in terms of population and business,” DeMarco said. “There have been economic development opportunities lost because of the lack of natural gas infrastructure in the Panhandle.”
DeMarco said there is currently a four-inch diameter pipeline in Berkeley County, but he said he still considers Berkeley County to be an underserved area when he looks at the county’s potential for growth.
Reisenweber said Mountaineer’s plan is to extend the pipeline from a source in Pennsylvania to Berkeley Springs and through Morgan County and connect it to the existing pipeline in Berkeley County. Once that part of the project is complete, the pipeline will be extended from Martinsburg through Jefferson County and will serve the Charles Town, Ranson, Middleway and Shepherdstown areas. The total length of the pipeline extension will be 56 miles.
Reisenweber said to the best of his knowledge, the estimated cost of the project is $44 million.
He said having natural gas infrastructure in place in Jefferson County will help attract businesses into the county, as well as make Jefferson County competitive with nearby counties and states.
“(The pipeline) is definitely an economic development project. It’s baseline infrastructure we don’t have. Companies that need that infrastructure will go somewhere else if we don’t have it. This will make us more competitive,” Reisenweber said.
According to Reisenweber, no route has been determined for the laying of the pipe yet, but he said Mountaineer will use existing right-of-ways as much as possible. He said right-of-way acquisitions can be expensive if a developer tries to buy privately held land.
If the West Virginia Public Service Commission approves Mountaineer’s request for cost recovery, Reisenweber said there could be some tangible results of the project by the end of 2017. However, he said, Mountaineer Gas would have a better idea of a specific timeline for the project.
Mountaineer Gas officials did not return calls for comment.
Staff writer Mary Stortstrom can be reached at 304-725-6581 or www.twitter.com/mstortstromJN.