National coal corporations have followed this strategy for generations. And now Chesapeake Energy’s decision to ship West Virginia Marcellus shale gas to the Gulf Coast for processing fits the pattern.
If Chesapeake had cooperated with state hopes for a billion-dollar ‘‘ethane cracker’’ plant, located here, it could have spawned 10,000 West Virginia construction jobs, followed by 500 permanent operator jobs. Better, derivative gases from the cracker could have fed blossoming local chemical plants hiring many more. The state would have gained a huge economic boost.
Chesapeake originally appeared to support this plan, sending an executive to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s Marcellus-to-Manufacturing Task Force — but abruptly it decided to build a 1,230-mile pipeline to carry West Virginia gas to Texas.
Was this action punitive? Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon often bashes West Virginia, after losing a giant lawsuit over royalties owed to state landowners. In retaliation, he canceled plans for a 215-job regional headquarters in Charleston.
State Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette told Statehouse reporter Eric Eyre the Chesapeake decision is a painful blow, but state leaders will continue trying to create a cracker for natural gas from other drillers. ...
As coal reserves dwindle and America slowly shifts to renewable energy, natural gas may serve as a ‘‘bridge’’ to a cleaner future, it said.
West Virginia University’s annual economic forecast predicts that coal mining will ‘‘decline significantly during the next five years, falling from 138 million tons in 2011 to 125 million tons by 2016.’’ The decrease will worsen as easy-to-reach seams are exhausted -- but gas drilling is expected to keep on soaring.
Deep Marcellus shale wells are sprouting across northern West Virginia, using rotor bits that branch off horizontally underground -- and also using high-pressure fluids to fracture shale layers and let gas escape. The extra-expensive operations produce a bonanza of gas, but they also raise pollution fears and damage local roads.
The Environmental Defense Fund has joined with drilling firms to draft a model law for states to adopt, to reduce pollution and ravages. West Virginia legislators should examine it carefully.
In view of Chesapeake’s action, lawmakers also should explore whether it’s legally possible to impose a heavy extra tax on gas that is drained out of colony-like West Virginia instead of being sent to local processing plants.