It's time to set the record straight. The oil and gas industry in West Virginia has spent more than $110 million to upgrade and maintain our roads.
We all know the state faces infrastructure challenges. In fact, Governor Justice was instrumental in passing, with support from most of the legislature, $800 million in general obligation state road bonds for his "Roads to Prosperity" program.
Nobody likes potholes, so programs to fix the roads and ensure their safety are important. There are many factors that contribute to poor road conditions - heavy rains and snow, old age and heavy traffic to name a few. But based on the pronouncements of some state leaders, one would assume that the oil and natural gas industry is largely to blame.
Our industry is not new to West Virginia. For many years, we have been going about our business creating jobs, bringing in financial benefits to the state and its residents and providing energy for homes, businesses and industry. But recently, this same oil and natural gas industry has been identified as the creator of every pothole and bump on the state's roadways.
The process of drilling oil and natural gas wells and building the pipelines necessary to carry these commodities to market requires transporting heavy equipment. No one will deny this activity can, over time, cause road damage. But it is important for the public and elected officials to know the steps industry takes to maintain and even upgrade roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
First and foremost, producers drilling new horizontal natural gas wells are required to post bonds with the state Department of Transportation to cover the cost of repairing any damage to secondary roads.
Bond amounts can be $100,000 per paved mile and $25,000 per gravel mile.
In many instances, producers are required to fix a roadway before they can begin drilling operations. And, this "road maintenance bond" is a requirement of the well permitting process with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.
Those bond amounts eclipse those required of other industries, including coal and logging, which only have to put up $5,000 bonds.
At the end of the day, many of the oil and gas producing companies perform the repair work and go beyond the required scope. In other words, "we leave the roadways better than we found them."
A quick survey of roadway investments from several of the companies currently operating in the state show they have collectively invested more than $110 million in road repairs and improvements over the past five years. In 2018 alone, companies spent more than $34 million.
From widening and paving the roads to ditching, replacing culverts and snow removal, we work hard to maintain -and in many cases, improve - the roads we use.
Based on this level of investment and attention to road repairs, it is clear the oil and natural gas industry has been a major part of the solution - not the problem.
The oil and natural gas industry is the state's top-paying sector with annual wages exceeding $1 billion. In 2018, the industry employed more than 22,000 workers, a 28% increase over 2017. Combined with $1.14 billion in severance taxes and $1.05 billion in property taxes paid since 2008, oil and natural gas play a significant role in West Virginia's economic growth.
As the industry continues to advance with new and more-efficient drilling technology, production is expected to increase. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), West Virginia was the seventh-largest natural gas-producing state in 2017.
Together, the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia (IOGA) and the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association (WVONGA) represent hundreds of oil and natural gas producers and the thousands of hard-working West Virginians who are proud to be a part of an industry that represents the future of the state. They live, work and raise their families in West Virginia and want to see the Mountain State thrive.
The oil and natural gas industry is leading the way to a bright future for West Virginia. Thanks to substantial improvements to the state's infrastructure, the oil and natural gas industry is paving the "Road to Prosperity," and we only ask that our government leaders recognize our record of investment.
Charlie Burd is executive director of the Independent Oil & Gas Association, and Anne Blankenship is executive director of the West Virginia Oil & Natural Gas Association.