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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Coal: West Virginia's Dying Industry

from Joost J. Bakker lJmuiden on flickr
West Virginia is a pretty one-dimensional economy.  If you take a trip down to the southern part of the state (Mingo County for example) you can hardly travel five miles without seeing some sign of coal, whether it be a coal truck or mining site etc.  Coal, despite the "ignorance is bliss" attitude of the industyr, is a non-renewable resource that will eventually run out.  I've been wondering for years how West Virginia plans to overcome the decline in coal. 

The decline may be starting. The Charleston Daily Mail reported, earlier this week, that the coal severance tax is expected to decline in the coming year.

The official forecast predicts coal severance tax collections will decline to $519 million in the fiscal year that began July 1. The forecast was made in December.
"Even though total severance tax collections for the first three months of this fiscal year are up by nearly 19 percent over last year, there are signs of an emerging trend of slower collection growth on the near-term horizon," Muchow said.
As much as coal employs the state, it also hurts it.  The industry gives several people jobs, and allows many to continue the rich family tradition of working in the mines.  Sometimes its customary for a son to follow in his father's footsteps and enter into the mines for a living (and a decent wage at that).  However, this tradition is something that won't be around forever.  No, coal will one day be gone and the state will be left struggling to find other forms of revenue and employment if they don't act accordingly.

Marcellus shale, as mentioned in my last post, is supposed to be a similar boon to the economy.  However, the natural gas pulled from under the rock is not permanent either.  West Virginia needs to be considering investing in alternative energy and clean ways of powering the state.  More investment in things like the Beech Ridge Wind Farm, and focusing on ways to employ the hard workers of West Virginia

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Marcellus Shale Regulations Need To Top Legislature Agenda

A Marcellus shale site in PA, courtesy of Marcellus Protest via flickr
(paraphrased from my original article for the Shepherd Picket)
Appalachia is home to the lucrative sedimentary rock deposit known as Marcellus shale, which contains large reserves of natural gas nestled underneath the surface of the rock and becomes available through a process involving hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking” as many have termed it).  Marcellus shale/hydraulic fracturing industry has created 2.8 million jobs.  Looking at it like this, it seems like a good idea and there are certainly a lot of positives to Marcellus shale gas extraction.  However, the process by which the gas is extracted can be dangerous and destructive to the environment

I've mentioned before, in the Shepherd Picket and on's Environmental blog Bonnie Hall, a Wetzel County resident whose water was allegedly contaminated when Chesapeake Energy began fracking near her land.  She drew water from a well at her house and noticed that the well water smelled like “industrial strength cleaning fluid.”  Her water was examined and found to contain styrene, a chemical commonly tied to kidney and liver problems that is a known chemical in some types of fracking.    Other chemicals commonly used in fracking include acrylonitrile and benzene . Acrylonitrile is especially concerning, because tests conducted by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) have labeled it as a cause of brain cancer. 

Governor Earl Ray Tomblin issued an executive order last July that called for emergency focused on fracturing.  The rules were a good start, and included some important foundation steps to regulating the industry. Tomblin’s order  required the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to “require drillers to estimate water usage, and for the agency to approve any disposal of frackwater by way of public treatment plants.” This would ensure that the DEP was inspecting and approving the wastewater that results from fracking, and will hopefully prevent most contamination.  Certifying site construction plans, new regulations on wells to prevent leaks, and the filing of water management plans were also on the list of rules for the executive order.  This needs to reach further, although its a decent start.  There needs to be 100 percent transparency when it comes to the chemicals and additives companies use in the fracking and drilling process, and all of them need to be approved by the DEP. 
There are several actions that need to be taken if the Marcellus shale industry is to thrive in West Virginia.  Research in alternative and clean energy is one, but as enticing as that sounds its not very likely in the mountain state.  However, regulations on the industry that hold the drilling companies accountable and ensure clean and safe fracking is possible and can be accomplished.  The State Legislature will be inundated with fracking-related issues this coming session, and they need to put some serious time and effort into reforming and writing new regulations for this lucrative but hazardous industry. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

An Obama Tomblin Conundrum?

Earl Ray Tomblin, courtesy of iwasaround via flickr

Earl Ray Tomblin recently won the special gubernatorial election in West Virginia, a race that was "hotly contested" yet saw little voter turnout.  Tomblin won by less than 8,000 votes, however only 289,256 people voted in West Virginia.  Pathetic turnout for less-than-desireable candidates.

WV Metro News released an article with quotes from the state's Democratic Party chairman claiming that Tomblin will have not be affected by Obama's candidacy when running for re-election in 2012 (Tomblin's term only lasts until November 2012).

The state Democrat Party's Chairman says he's confident West Virginia's Democrat candidates will run strong in 2012, despite have President Barack Obama's name at the top of the ticket.
"Right now, his message and what he is working towards is not selling well here," Larry Puccio admits.
Obama is pretty damn unpopular in West Virginia.  In fact, the only state he is less popular in is Wyoming according to the article.  However, Ear Ray Tomblin's survival depends not on Obama at all or the fact that he is a Democrat.

This election was very close, a mere 8,000 votes separating the two candidates.  Why is this?  Awful Republican candidates.  This is the story of elections in West Virginia, and will soon be the echoing ballad of the 2012 Presidential race.  Democrats survival depends on the republican candidates, and how much they shoot themselves in the foot.

Take Joe Manchin for example.  He wasn't such a bad candidate for Senate in West Virginia, and had pretty decent polling as governor approval.  The republican he ran against, John Raese, was a train wreck.  His lavish houses in Florida, ridiculous lectures about lasers, etc. ultimately sealed his fate entirely.  Earl Ray Tomblin was the same way

A campaign staffer for Tomblin mentioned to me at one point that their campaign focused on jobs, lower taxes, and making him look remotely appealing.  Nobody was genuinely excited about the "change" that ERT would bring, but more about how they didn't want Maloney in the governor's seat.

Tomblin's re-election has little to do with Obama.  West Virginians don't associate him with the President, and most aren't gullible enough to believe the stuff Maloney and other republicans say about his ties to Obama.  No, the only thing that matters is the republican candidate running against him.  If he's remotely appealing, ERT might lose his seat.


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