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Pa., W.Va., Ohio to coordinate efforts to attract shale-related business

| Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, 4:42 p.m.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Sen. Joe Manchin returned from a recent visit to the Gulf Coast wondering why natural gas development looked so different in his home state.

“We've got the product here. Why don't we have all the other stuff that goes with it?” the West Virginia Democrat asked Tuesday during a summit focused on cross-state efforts to attract manufacturers and petrochemical plants, such as ethane crackers.

Leaders of the three states in which companies are most active in pulling gas from the Marcellus and Utica shales — the most productive basin in the country — promised to work on making the area more attractive to the development that more often goes to the gulf.

“While we all have individual state interests, it is important to understand that potential investors are not as concerned with state borders as they are with overall regional resource and workforce availability,” West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said before signing a cooperation agreement with Pennsylvania and Ohio.

The states agreed to bring together government, industry and economic development leaders for more discussions such as the summit organized by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, West Virginia-based nonprofit Vision Shared and Team NEO, a workforce group in Ohio.

Tomblin and Ohio Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor said they want to speak with one voice instead of competing against each other for the attention of companies looking to invest in facilities.

The agreement does not include any proposed tax policies or regulatory changes.

“In order to maximize this development in an environmentally safe way, we must work together. We must support development processes that add value to these resources,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said in a video address. Wolf, who has clashed with the industry over his plans to impose a severance tax on gas production, said a travel ban he imposed during the state budget stalemate kept him from attending the summit in person.

The conference highlighted ways industry and other groups can work together and are collaborating on efforts such as research partnerships with universities and job-training programs.

“All the pieces of the puzzle are here already. Someone needs to put them together,” said Nigel Hearne, president of gas producer Chevron Corp.'s Appalachian unit, which last year announced a $20 million investment in shale-related education programs in the three states.

The larger region has a history of oil, coal and ore extraction that predates the Gulf Coast's rise, he noted.

“What we don't have is a history of working together,” said Dianne Anderson, a former BP executive who chairs the Statler College Advisory Committee at West Virginia University.

Speakers at the summit outlined efforts that should focus on interstate pipeline siting, public projects to build storage for natural gas liquids such as ethane and propane, training a workforce that can staff advanced manufacturing plants and attracting plants and ethane crackers.

“We have to add value to what we're pulling out of the ground,” said Cory Dennison, president of Vision Shared, which helps coordinate economic development programs in West Virginia.

The crackers, which convert ethane from shale wells into plastics, would be welcome to manufacturers that today must pay to ship resins from plants on the Gulf Coast, said Joe Eddy, CEO of Eagle Manufacturing, which is headquartered in Wellsburg, W.Va.

Royal Dutch Shell is prepping land in Beaver County while it considers building a multibillion-dollar cracker there, and PTT Global Chemical is spending $100 million in Belmont County, Ohio — across the Ohio River from Moundsville — on engineering studies for a potential plant.

Eddy said either plant would bring “sustainable competitive value” to the whole region as related manufacturers spring up. By collaborating, state agencies, universities and development groups can present to potential builders a combined list of regional resources instead of smaller lists, several people said.

“I'd like to have a cracker plant in West Virginia. But I'm not going to be upset if it's right across the river in Pennsylvania or Ohio,” Manchin said.

David Conti is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5802 or dconti@tribweb.com.

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