Last month, West Virginia state Sen. Brooks McCabe, a Democrat, predicted that “as a leading energy state, West Virginia could create a future unimaginable heretofore.” Also last month, Randy Cleveland, the president of XTO Energy, Exxon’s natural-gas subsidiary, told a business convention in the state, “West Virginia is sitting on a treasure with generational implications.”
West Virginia? The same state ranked dead last by Gallup this year in overall well-being and for the past five years in a row? An “unimaginable future”? “Generational implications”? Is this just an example of over-the-top local boosterism and commercial hype?
In fact, there are two West Virginias. One half is reaping the benefits from a bipartisan, state and local government and private business spirit of cooperation and optimism. This is what Mr. McCabe and Mr. Cleveland envision. Then there is the other half of West Virginia, which is being victimized by an ideologically driven, highly partisan, federal government war on coal that shows every evidence of spreading to other traditional sources of energy.
Let’s start with the good news and a bit of state geology. The Marcellus shale formation covers nearly the entire state of West Virginia. Under it in some parts is a second shale formation called the Utica. Fortunately for West Virginia, and in contrast to the shale in other parts of Northern Appalachia, the state’s shale often contains “wet gas,” as well as “dry gas” (methane).
Wet gas is composed of commercially useful liquids mixed in the dry natural gas. Currently, drilling activity is focused on the western half of the state along the Ohio River and east to Clarksburg and Morgantown. Eventually, it is likely to spread to the rest of the state.
The West Virginia Division of Tourism’s slogan, “Wild and wonderful,” is gaining a whole new meaning in shale country. Even though the shale boom only affects half the state at the moment, it has driven West Virginia up to third in economic growth among the 50 states. According to the West Virginia Department of Commerce, the state has seen $22.5 billion in new investment.