August 2017 Exclusive Story
U.S. Oil Output Poised To Hit Historic High
MARIETTA, OH.–Greg Kozera says his most memorable elevator pitch was exactly that–a few seconds in an elevator. He had from floor 26 to floor 2 of the Marquis Marriott Hotel in Houston to make his case last spring.
On board with him were a few executives from national and international energy companies. One casually asked Kozera about his own role in the energy industry. Kozera told him about the Shale Crescent, a portion of the Appalachian Basin which he described as an ideal spot for manufacturing and economic development.
“Did you know the mid-Ohio valley has the cheapest and most abundant natural gas in the industrialized world?” Kozera asked. “If you took the Shale Crescent–northern West Virginia, southeast Ohio, and southwestern Pennsylvania–it would be the third-largest natural gas producer in the world. The region produces more than Texas.”
And with access to 50 percent of the nation’s markets within a day’s drive, and abundant freshwater, an economic development initiative of the same name, Shale Crescent USA, is working to attract industry to the region. According to Kozera, director of marketing for the group, one distinct feature of the effort is that it’s cooperative, rather than competitive.
“We are nonpolitical and nongovernmental,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what side of the Ohio River a plant locates. The key is for us to work together.”
According to Kozera, that specific elevator encounter resulted in a meeting at the executive’s office two weeks later and turned into an ongoing relationship for Shale Crescent. What the final result will be remains to be seen, Kozera acknowledges, but he says he is hopeful and patient.
“We have had some success so far,” he assesses. “It’s a marathon, though. People don’t make multibillion dollar decisions overnight. We have gone from marketing now to face-to-face meetings with people who actually can make the decisions. We are telling our story to as many people as we can, because it’s a good story.”
Growing A Region
According to Kozera, the Mid-Ohio Valley flourished after early discoveries of oil and natural gas. The region prospered in the late 1800s and again following World War II.
“Industry left when the local oil and gas industry declined, and oil and natural gas had to come from outside the area,” he wrote in the Marietta Times. “The same pipelines that brought natural gas into the region are now carrying natural gas out of the Northeast and to places such as the Gulf Coast and Virginia.”
And as the oil and gas industry revived, largely thanks to the unconventional Marcellus and Utica shale formations, it is becoming increasingly more economic to bring industry to the source of the gas.
Jerry James, director of Shale Crescent USA, president of Artex Oil in Marietta, and past president of the Ohio Oil & Gas Association, has been involved in the project since the beginning.
“Historically, natural gas has flowed from the Gulf of Mexico and from out west, and has moved north,” he said in a press conference. “So for somebody to locate a plant for the last 75 years, the right answer was the Gulf of Mexico. We now have the opportunity to compete with those areas. We now have the lowest natural gas prices in the industrialized world.”
This can make the region an “economic powerhouse,” Shale Crescent USA officials say. Many of the region’s leaders publicly agree. A number of area publications, such as a couple of Charleston, W.V., newspapers, are also on board, lauding the effort by an industry that rarely gets much editorial encouragement.
“The beauty of the group, like many economic development groups, is that it is private business and community development folks–working with government agencies and others–to grow a region,” a Charleston Gazette-Mail editorial read in May. “If they are successful in helping bring more jobs and more industry and more economic impact to the region, everybody, including West Virginia, will benefit. Here is hoping Shale Crescent and other like-minded development groups succeed in bringing growth to a state and region that sorely needs it.”
The Charleston-based State-Journal agrees.
“This really is a tumultuous time in our society, with arguments at every turn and at every level. So it’s all the more striking to see or hear about a successful partnership or a true collective movement,” that newspaper wrote in May. “West Virginia and the Mid-Ohio Valley have a sleeping giant that many volunteers are slowly awakening in Shale Crescent USA.”
The State-Journal praised the effort as both cooperative and ambitious.
“The answers to many of West Virginia’s problems are real jobs,” the newspaper opined. “Jobs are hope. Whether they are in manufacturing, engineering, law or medicine, jobs will push the Mountain State back into growth mode. So many West Virginians who are spread throughout the country would love the opportunity to come back home. And if more people pushed for success without stopping to worry about the praise, we could lure a fish big enough for all of them to feast.”
Back To Manufacturing
One major project, Shell Chemical Appalachia LLC’s planned 300-acre ethane cracker plant in Monaca, Pa., is already well on its way to breaking ground in the region. Although Shell made its decision before Shale Crescent USA formed, officials say the facility serves as a model for the type of results the regional economic development effort seeks to achieve.
OOGA Director of Public Relations Mike Chadsey, who works closely with Shale Crescent USA, touts the economic chain reaction that such a major industrial project can spark.
“The PTT Global Chemical ethane cracker plant proposed on the Ohio River, that’s upwards of 10,000 construction jobs simply to build it and hundreds of permanent jobs to keep it running,” he says. “That, in and of itself, is impactful. But what it will do once it is operational for the Mid-Ohio Valley is the real impact. A cracker does not only create plastics, it creates jobs and manufacturing, and manufacturing is what the Mid-Ohio Valley knows best. We make things and we fix things. That’s what we need to get back to.”
While affordable energy and easy access to water and transportation routes are important to companies looking to relocate or expand, Chadsey reflects, the available workforce is often a deciding factor. And here, he reports, the Mid-Ohio Valley has the people with the work ethic to get the job done.
“We have a lot of college and public school campuses around the region that are doing a great job of training everyone from petroleum engineers to welders to CDL drivers, and all of that helps,” Chadsey says. “It is all part of a larger conversation being had about whether college is right for everyone. I don’t believe it is, and there are many opportunities for good jobs and good careers in these industries right here in the Mid-Ohio Valley.”
Moreover, he considers, Shale Crescent USA also sees an opportunity to bring workers home to the region. “We have a lot of people who went to the Carolinas or to Texas for job opportunities, and we know they would love to come back home,” Chadsey considers. “Grandparents want to see their grandkids, and that’s what we all are working toward.”
Rust Belt Comeback
For Kozera, it’s about hope for a long-troubled region.
“When you think about my area–about West Virginia–what do you think about?” he poses. “Coal mining. And that’s what we do here; we dig holes in the ground, then send our coal to Pittsburgh for steel and to Detroit for cars. We are left with holes in the ground. This is an opportunity to make the value-added products here. And that changes the game.”
The jobs that the industry can bring will be the kind of high-paying, dependable jobs that every region wants.
“I know it can happen–the Rust Belt can begin to come back. It’s also critical to our country,” he considers. “The jobs left, but we can bring them back. All we have to do is bring one major petrochemical company here. Hook one whale, and that will start everything.”