Dominion Resources playing 'responsible' role in Marcellus drilling, company says
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Dominion Resources Services, a company that has operated in West Virginia for more than a century, is facing criticism that they are not playing a responsible role in the development of Marcellus Shale natural gas wells in the Northern Panhandle.
The Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation, a coalition of labor unions, has criticized Dominion for failing to hire enough local and union workers.
Some local residents and environmental groups argue the negative impacts of deep drilling for Marcellus Shale reserves will devastate and pollute groundwater, streams and rivers.
Dominion officials, however, believe they are playing a responsible role in developing new energy resources, providing jobs and bringing in millions of dollars to the state in wages and taxes.
Dave Knuth, president of Marshall County's Chamber of Commerce, said on Friday, "We are really enjoying the fact this natural resource has been found here in our county and surrounding areas.
"We feel this is going to be a super boost to our economy in northern West Virginia and we're looking forward to the benefits.
"The gas companies have had a lot of history doing deep drilling. I really feel the dangers are minimal and that a lot comes from pre-existing conditions, such as water wells," Knuth said.
Marcellus Shale natural gas deposits -- stretching from New York down through western Pennsylvania into West Virginia and eastern Ohio -- are among the very largest in the world.
Today, Dominion is developing a $500 million gas processing plant in Natrium, a town just north of New Martinsville.
Located on the banks of the Ohio River, the plant will be easily accessible to both Marcellus and Utica gas reserves in northern West Virginia and eastern Ohio. Dominion plans to have the new plant operating by the end of this year.
Robert C. Orndorff Jr., Dominion's managing director of government affairs for Dominion, said the company retained Chicago Bridge and Iron --- a company based in Houston, Texas that has built gas plants around the world -- to build the Natrium plant.
"There were not any West Virginia contractors that were big enough. They haven't done this before."
Knuth said, "When any business, especially a specialized business like drilling, begins work in a new area, they have to bring in their own employees, because of their experience level.
"Many companies here are willing to hire local people as on-the-job trainees. I think that is very admirable of them to do that."
Orndorff believes the ACT Foundation is criticizing Dominion unfairly.
"We hire union labor. We have 1,300 employees in West Virginia; 80 percent of them are union workers. But we don't always hire union labor under our contracts," Orndorff said.
"Steve White [ACT's executive director] says Dominion does not hire union labor. That is false."
Dominion signed "labor agreements with the ACT Foundation for our Pleasants Energy Plant and Ned Wind Turbine Project," Orndorff said. "And we encourage our contractors to hire locally."
Charles E. Penn Sr., Dominion's manager of media and community relations, criticized ACT's negative TV ads and signs posted along roads in the Northern Panhandle.
"When you see these signs, what kind of a message does that send, especially when Dominion is competing with companies who might decide to build plants in Pennsylvania or Ohio?"
Many of the signs say: "Dominion Loves Scabs" or "Dominion Loves Rats."
"What impact is that campaign having on West Virginia's chances to get a cracker?" Penn asked. "This is a state that could use an infusion of jobs."
A cracker processes wet natural gas, often producing a variety of other products such as diesel fuel, gasoline, naphtha and ethylene -- a major product used by the plastics industry.
Back in 1915, Dominion built the Hastings Extraction Plant in Wetzel County. Orndorff said it "was the first plant to separate liquids from natural gas in the United States."
Knuth said, "Once a cracker is built, there is a tremendous possibility smaller plants will be built nearby, because ethylene can be used in making almost any type of plastic. That could put thousands of people to work."
No company has made a final decision about where to build a new cracker plant, Knuth said, which could cost between $2 billion and $4 billion.
"We would surely like to have it in our county," Knuth said. "It would be second best to have a cracker in an adjacent county or right across the Ohio River in Belmont County."
Richard Neely, a Charleston lawyer and former West Virginia Supreme Court justice, recently founded a new company called Invictus LLC, which hopes to build the local cracker plant to process natural gas along the Kanawha River west of Montgomery.
Neely has been talking with investors and construction companies around the country about his proposed plant.Reach Paul J. Nyden at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-3348-5164.