Three states forge agreement on energy initiatives

Posted October 14, 2015

Rick Shrum
Observer Reporter

You could feel the energy as Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio forged an agreement Tuesday.

Along the banks of the Mon, the traditional tri-state members committed to banking their energy futures on each other. Two governors and a lieutenant governor of the those states signed a three-year agreement to collaborate on initiatives to grow the shale industry in their region, grow downstream manufacturing – and, hopefully grow their respective economies.

It is likely an unprecedented agreement as well – three states unifying as three musketeers.

The impetus is “to have the whole region speak as one voice,” West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said at the inaugural Tri-State Shale Summit at the Waterfront Place Hotel, near the city’s Wharf District.

Leaders from government, business, industry, academia and foundation philanthropy pushed collaboration throughout the day, speaking individually or in panels.

Tomblin and Mary Taylor, lieutenant governor of Ohio, signed the accord there Tuesday afternoon. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf had done so earlier. Wolf and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, were unable to attend, although Wolf addressed the audience of about 300 via video.

“The tri-state region is emerging as a world-class energy center,” said the Democratic leader of the Keystone State. “The energy industry is growing year after year.”

Taylor, a Republican, said: “These resources belong to everyone in the region.”

Grace Bochenek, director of the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, was an early-morning keynote speaker. She advocated an “all-of-the-above energy future” featuring natural gas, oil, clean coal, renewables and nuclear.

“We have abundant, affordable energy,” she said. The work we do today could have impacts 50, 60, 70 years from now. This region needs to come together to bring this forward.”

Joe Manchin, former governor and current U.S. senator from the Mountain State, spoke between two morning panel discussions. He addressed a number of energy topics, including coal, once the lifeblood of his state but now an industry that is bleeding.

“West Virginia has ridden a lot of highs and lows economically, but has always come back. But this (coal) is the biggest challenge,” Manchin said, while lamenting the closing of some “of the cleanest burning coal-fired power plants.”

He left no doubt he is bullish on energy and the abundant natural gas in the Marcellus and Utica shales.

The senator supports the proposed and oft-maligned Keystone XL Pipeline, and believes a certain Democrat – a White House hopeful – should, too. “I asked President (Bill) Clinton why Hillary is against it and he said, ‘Heck if I know.’

“The safest way to transport gas is by pipeline. The XL Pipeline should be built.”

So, Manchin added, should an ethane cracker plant … or two … or three.

One, of course, has been proposed for Potter Township in Beaver County, which Shell is investigating. A Thai firm, PTT Global Chemical Public Company Ltd., is interested in building a petrochemical facility in Dilles Bottom, Ohio, across the Ohio River from Moundsville, W.Va.

“I’d like to have a cracker plant in West Virginia,” Manchin said, “but I wouldn’t be upset if there is one across the line in Ohio or across the line in Pennsylvania.”

Greene County officials Don Chappel and Robbie Matesic attended the summit and left informed and enlightened.

“There was a lot of information, a lot of smart people speaking,” said Chappel, executive director of Industrial Developments. “This region really has a lot to offer in energy.”

“A lot can happen,” said Matesic, executive director of Economic Development.

Bruce Fawcett, executive director of PolymerOhio, said the race has begun but the spirit of collaboration should not flag.

“This group was built for a marathon, but we have to come up with a training plan.”