Charleston Gazette – While West Virginia’s southern coalfields suffer economic agony, the Marcellus and Utica shale gas boom has spurred prosperity in northern counties, offsetting some of the misery. Read
Many new hotels and motels are being built around the Northern Panhandle to house out-of-state drillers, the Wheeling Intelligencer and News-Register says. As a result, the economy of the Wheeling metropolitan area grew 9.5 percent last year, fifth-best in the nation.
Likewise, hotels surged along I-79 for the same reason, the Clarksburg Exponent-Telegram reported — but they slumped during the summer when low gas prices caused a drilling slowdown.
Deep shale wells, made possible by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, are giving America a gas-and-oil energy bonanza. The U.S. Energy Information Agency predicts that — after being dependent on imported petroleum for a half-century — America will become a fuel exporter by 2017.
If Brazil’s Odebrecht conglomerate succeeds in creating a billion-dollar ethane cracker south of Parkersburg, many petrochemical plants may blossom in the region, boosting the economy. One downside is that high-tech modern industrial plants need fewer workers, so job-creation would be modest.
Currently, the state collects 5 percent severance tax on natural gas. The Charleston-based West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy recommends boosting the rate to 10 or 15 percent — but waiving the increase if gas is used for manufacturing within the state, instead of being piped elsewhere.
“West Virginia has a long history of … shipping our most valuable resources out of the state to be developed, analyst Sean O’Leary said. “As we have seen with the booms and busts of the coal industry, this leaves behind an economy lacking diversity and development, with not enough good-paying jobs.”