Editorial: Natural gas expansions renew call for export

Columbia Pipeline Group announced Tuesday that it will invest $1.75 billion in new natural gas infrastructure in Ohio, western Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

That news follows plans by Dominion to invest $2 billion to build a natural gas pipeline to southern North Carolina. And that news follows combined investments of more than $10 billion by the likes of MarkWest Energy Partners, Caiman Energy, The Williams Companies and other natural gas players in infrastructure development in the Marcellus and Utica shale plays ever since drilling for “tight sands” gas and liquids began in earnest in 2009.

In a time when economic growth is slow and unsteady and market and regulatory trends are burdening the coal industry, the Marcellus and Utica shales are a big bright spot for West Virginia and the three-state region around northern West Virginia.

State and federal policymakers need to recognize the opportunity this provides to the region.

Before drillers figured out how to extract natural gas deep in the shale formations, natural gas prices were about $14 per thousand cubic feet, or mcf, the standard industry measure.

Today, the price is just under $4 per mcf, meaning the abundant, clean-burning domestic fuel is helping energy users — which is practically everyone — enjoy energy at lower prices and providing countless new opportunities for job creation by manufacturers looking to take advantage of lower energy costs.

Besides the opportunity it presents for greater economic activity here at home, believe it or not, the local boom gives the United States an opportunity to help stabilize the world.

Currently, Europe gets a third of its natural gas from Russia. And Russia knows it. Sanctions by European countries to rein in Vladimir Putin’s actions could result in spiteful restrictions of gas exports from Russia to Europe.

But a U.S. policy of encouraging the construction of more natural gas export terminals and related infrastructure to liquefy the natural gas for export will give countries in Europe and elsewhere an alternative fuel supply, reducing their reliance on Russia or other world hotspots.

West Virginia coal is being exported to countries around the world, providing a big source of revenue for West Virginia companies. Europeans are looking for new sources of natural gas. Why not export West Virginia natural gas too?

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a bi-partisan bill to require the Department of Energy to approve LNG export applications within 90 days. The bill is now in the U.S. Senate.

West Virginia could benefit if Sens. Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller make this bill a priority.

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