For The Legislature Today, reporter Brittany Patterson spent a day at West Virginia University’s Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources speaking with students studying petroleum and natural gas engineering.
The industry is an economically important one across the state. According to the state tax department, in 2019, the state received $146 million in severance taxes from natural gas.
Last year, natural gas production increased, but both producers and state collections struggled in the face of low natural gas prices and the slowdown of major pipeline projects. Officials estimate in 2020, collections will be about $98 million.
“The analogy that we’re running for our life in this price environment is pretty accurate,” said Derek Cutwright, senior vice president for Southwestern Energy, at a recent meeting of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia.
Students we spoke with, however, expressed optimism.
“There is not a better place to study it,” said master’s student Josh Dietz. Students at WVU have two gas-rich regions — the Marcellus and Utica shale formations — in their backyard.
Some students expressed a desire to try and balance the growing environmental concerns over fossil fuels like natural gas with the reality that it currently generates more than one-third of all electricity in the U.S.
Senior Morgan Measures said while the technology behind renewable energies like wind and solar has advanced, others like battery storage are still relatively new.
“I don't think it's one or the other and I think ... the balance of that is very important,” she said.
Junior Anurag Shrestha said becoming an engineer in this field may give him an opportunity to reduce emissions in the natural gas industry.
“As an engineer, I feel like I should help optimize our oil industry, our energy sustainability capabilities,” he said. “So I do definitely want to start working and start to see what else can we optimize.”
In 2020, experts expect a global glut of natural gas will slow production around the world, including in West Virginia. Oil and gas giant Chevron in December announced plans to write down $10 to $11 billion in assets, mostly shale gas holdings in Appalachia.
Listen to a conversation with Angie Rosser, executive director of West Virginia Rivers Coalition and Dave McMahon, co-founder of the West Virginia Surface Owners’ Rights Organization about their concerns regarding natural gas development in West Virginia.