The Exponent Telegram of Clarksburg, West Virginia, published this editorial on May 29 regarding the pursuit of natural gas-related industries:
For too many years West Virginia has allowed its natural treasures to be exploited, allowing for short-term economic growth but long-term economic struggles.
One only has to look at the coal industry to understand that for far too many years West Virginia allowed out-of-state corporations to prosper, only to see them leave - and take the economy with them.
While those mega corporations were here, residents and state coffers were in great shape. When they left, not so much.
So it's important to learn from our past mistakes and to listen to the experts. And one of our own experts, West Virginia University's John Deskins, is saying West Virginia must aggressively pursue downstream industries related to the natural gas boom.
Deskins, who heads WVU's Bureau of Business and Economic Research, told NCWV Media Business Editor Conor Griffith that more needs to be done to attract those industries - and now.
"A real, transformative opportunity lies in downstream activity," Deskins said. "And this is manufacturing opportunity, not extraction. We've been talking about this for several years. But just because there's potential here, we can't just assume it's going to happen.
"It's competitive out there, and we need to be very aggressive in making this happen. The natural gas industry could be game-changing for West Virginia's economy - without question."
Deskins was referring to neighboring states in the Marcellus and Utica shale basins, as well as states in the Gulf Coast region of the United States, where petrochemical industries have established roots.
He emphasized the importance of working to have a natural gas "cracker" plant that splits the gas into elements used in plastics and other petrochemical industries.
He also stressed the importance of a storage hub and has previously advocated for planned pipelines to ship some of the natural gas used for heating and power generation to out-of-state markets.
"The cracker plant could present many manufacturing opportunities downstream," he said. "The storage hub would stabilize the market: In times of low demand, production can remain steady and excess can go into the storage hub; in times of high demand, you can draw down natural gas stored in the hub. It puts a stability factor in the market, and that's a major point in locating that facility here."
But the time to act is now, as neighboring states like Ohio and Pennsylvania are better positioned to reap the benefits of the cracker plant and storage hub.
"The natural gas industry and its downstream manufacturing byproduct have the potential to create tens of thousands of jobs," he said. "We can't be complacent, and the time to act is now. The biggest economic development question we'll have for at least the next decade is how much of this downstream petrochemical activity we can attract to West Virginia."
State officials have known this and have been working to put the Mountain State in better position to prosper. But more work needs to be done.
Natural gas and manufacturing advocates believe lawmakers need to address rules that continue to hurt those industries, including the lack of a "pooling" law, which makes it easier for companies to gain drilling rights, as well as taxation issues like the tax on inventory.
West Virginia leaders must continue to balance the rights of individuals with the potential good for the majority of people.
And according to the state's top economic expert, more action is needed to entice natural gas and manufacturing development.
State residents and lawmakers should take heed.