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Drilling firm selling Marshall, Wetzel county properties

WHEELING, W.Va. — West Virginia Northern Community College students continue preparing for careers in the Marcellus and Utica shale fields even as area natural gas producers struggle with prices at $2 per unit less than at this time last year. Last week, students in the college’s Petroleum Technology program trained on a horizontal separator machine. Instructor Curt Hippensteel said the practice teaches students the process of how dry methane gas can be separated from other substances at a well site.

“It shows them the basics of how it works out in the field,” Hippensteel said.

Although the training is going well, some of the drillers are making moves because they are losing money. Gastar Exploration, which operates in both Marshall and Wetzel counties, is trying to sell some of its assets to focus attention on shale plays in the central part of the country.

“We are shifting our emphasis away from the Appalachian Basin and toward the mid-continent, where returns are more attractive,” Gastar CEO J. Russell Porter said.

Gastar’s recent earnings report shows the firm reported a net loss of $191.8 million from July 1 to Sept. 30. This is far from the only driller showing losses, as Noble Energy lost $283 million during the same period.

Noble officials confirmed they will cut 45 positions in the Marcellus Shale and 180 jobs throughout the company. However, Noble Chairman, President and CEO David L. Stover said the company continues making progress.

“Noble Energy delivered tremendous performance in the third quarter. This was highlighted by material reductions in our quarterly capital and controllable unit costs, which were driven by continued operational efficiency gains throughout the business,” he said.

Gastar and Noble operate mostly in West Virginia, while Gulfport Energy works mostly in Ohio. Gulfport reported a net loss of $388.2 million from July 1 through Sept. 30.

“As we contemplate levels of activity going forward, I assure you that we will continue to act thoughtfully and in a financially responsible manner,” Gulfport CEO Michael G. Moore said. “While we are certainly proud of our operational performance this quarter, we also acknowledge these are challenging times for the industry.”

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