By CASEY JUNKINS
ST. CLAIRSVILLE, Ohio - Natural gas industry leaders believe President-elect Donald Trump's administration will allow them to bolster their business, so they continue pushing for billions of dollars worth of pipeline infrastructure to help grow the economy.
The number of active drilling rigs in the Marcellus and Utica region remains lower compared to last year, but recovering prices are allowing the demand to grow. Therefore, now is the time to capitalize with new infrastructure, business leaders believe.
One such company that continues moving forward is Gulfport Energy, as the driller is paying $87 million to acquire 12,600 undeveloped acres in Monroe County. Gulfport, along with Rice Energy, XTO Energy, Antero Resources, Ascent Resources and other firms continue working in eastern Ohio. Meanwhile, Southwestern Energy Co. is signing new lease agreements in Ohio County.
There are now 18 drilling rigs grinding into the Ohio Utica Shale, which is up from 15 at this time last year. In West Virginia, however, the number of active rigs declined over the past year, from 13 to 10.
Officials with the National Association of Manufacturers believe there is strong public support to push for more development.
"It's time to finally make critical investments in our infrastructure that will support domestic energy development," association President and CEO Jay Timmons said. "Americans understand that we have the opportunity to allow projects to move forward that will grow our economy and keep manufacturers of all sizes competitive. It's not hard to see how modernizing our energy and transportation infrastructure will create good-paying American jobs. Voters clearly recognize this and are demanding action from Washington, D.C."
"Buckeye State voters overwhelmingly support infrastructure investment because they know it will improve standards of living," Ohio Manufacturers' Association President Eric Burkland added. "From pipeline infrastructure to get Utica Shale resources to market, to locks and dams along the Ohio River, to maritime and transportation infrastructure along Lake Erie, public and private investment in these areas will help get Ohioans working again and revitalize our manufacturing base for years to come."
As natural gas prices slowly recover to make drilling more economically feasible for producers, they are still waiting on several other pipeline projects to receive Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval, including the $5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the $4.3 billion Rover Pipeline, the $1.75 billion Leach XPress, the $3.5 billion Mountain Valley Pipeline and the $2 billion Mountaineer XPress.
The 36-inch diameter Nexus Pipeline - which will travel 255 miles to connect the Marcellus and Utica shale region to the Detroit area at a cost of nearly $2 billion for developer Spectra Energy - recently received approval from FERC staff members, although commissioners must still formally permit the project.
David Taylor, president of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers' Association, said the fact his state's electoral votes went to a Republican presidential candidate for the first time since 1988 shows residents support energy and industry.
"Pennsylvanians understand that to be able to produce energy in Pennsylvania and get it to customers, we need reliable infrastructure," he said. "They also understand that our families and communities will be better off when we invest in that infrastructure-from pipelines, ports and power lines to airports, bridges, roads and waterways."