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State officials, experts discuss pipeline development as part of conference


The Exponent Telegram

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Experts and officials from the oil and gas industry discussed the future of pipeline development in the Mountain State Wednesday, May 3.

The discussion was part of a panel during the West Virginia Manufacturers Association’s annual Marcellus to Manufacturing Development Conference at Waterfront Place Hotel in Morgantown.

Maribeth Anderson, director of government and community relations for Southwestern Energy, moderated the panel discussion.

Since Marcellus drilling operations first began in the state, there has been debate about the most efficient ways to transport natural gas, Anderson said.

“We have this need to find markets, both inside our region and outside the region,” she said. “We have this need for more demand. We also have this need to use the gas here.”

Gas pipelines are the best solution for these problems because they provide “certainty and keep our economic development going,” Anderson said.

Anne Blankenship, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, said there currently are more than 30 pipeline projects in development on the East Coast.

More than 10 are underway in West Virginia, Blankenship said.

“A number of them start or go through Northern West Virginia,” she said.

Bob Orndorff, state policy director for Dominion Transmission, said as the number of total pipeline projects increases, so does the industry’s total output of natural gas.

“We have increased production more than 400 percent from 2008 to 2016,” he said.

The biggest hurdle for the oil and gas industry right now is finding ways to ensure that methods of transportation are able to keep up with production, Orndorff said.

“Now there’s not enough take-away capacity to be able to get that gas out of West Virginia and into emerging markets,” he said.

The lack of means of transporting natural gas has greatly reduced the price producers can sell the commodity for, Orndorff said.

“We can’t get it to market, and it’s really depressed the prices,” he said. “That’s why ultimately we’re setting up the scenario why we need these pipes and we need them desperately.”

Josh Young of the American Chemistry Council said one of the biggest obstacles facing pipeline construction is the complicated array of regulations at every level of government.

“The problem occurs where it might get federal approval, but you still have to get approval from state agencies or local agencies,” he said.

This process has impeded the progress of many pipeline projects, Young said.

“Barely any pipelines are advancing through the approval process in the Northeast, and that has to do with politics,” he said.

Orndorff agreed, saying vacancies on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission have slowed the approval process for pipeline construction.

The FERC needs a quorum of at least three commissioners to give a project approval, Orndorff said. Currently, the commission is operating with just two members.

President Donald Trump has yet to appoint any new members to the commission, Orndorff said.

“We’re really in a pickle, as they say, with what’s taking place with FERC,” he said, “until we get these folks nominated and approved by the Senate.”

Following the panel discussion, Anderson opened the floor to questions from audience members.

The panel discussion was just one of many talks and seminars during the conference. Subjects ranged from ethane storage to industry growth in the region.

According to organizers, more than 300 professionals from the oil and gas industry attended the conference.

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