Monday, December 27, 2010

The gas under our feet

Natural gas is an intricate part of West Virginia's history. Native Americans were aware of "burning springs," a phenomenon where natural gas vents through springs bubbling out of the earth, easily set ablaze.

Natural gas and oil were unwanted byproducts of the salt industry in West Virginia during the early 1800's. Salt drillers often drilled into shallow pockets of gas and oil. The oil was diverted into the Kanawha River, which became known as "The Old Greasy" by boatmen. When gas first became a valuable commodity the salt drillers' equipment was used to drill for gas and oil. The first pipelines were made of wood. In 1889 iron pipes were used for the first time in well bores to keep them from caving in while drilling into softer rock and sand. This allowed a well to be drilled deeper, thus becoming more productive and profitable.

From 1906 to 1917 West Virginia was the number one producer of gas in the United States. Hampshire County lagged behind the rest of West Virginia in gas development. Around 1950 the first gas well was drilled in Hampshire County. Over the next couple of decades or so, there were forty-four permits issued to companies to drill in Hampshire County. The rush to drill in the 50's and 60's brought in an array of companies, some established in the industry, others wildcatters looking to make it. All the wells in the county are statutory deep wells, over 6,000 feet deep. These wells were soon played out.

At the same time Washington Gas Light, a major supplier of gas to the Washington/Baltimore metropolitan area bought acreage in Brandywine, Maryland, with plans to establish an underground storage facility for their natural gas. This project was soon abandoned due to the uproar over safety issues and falling property values in this suburban area.

In 1963 Washington Gas Light created a new subsidiary, Hampshire Gas, and bought up control of the natural gas fields in Hampshire County, along the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. This valuable asset has become a subterranean storage facility for Washington Gas Light. The gas stored in these old played out wells is piped in from the Gulf States and the Southwest. The total capacity of the storage facility in Hampshire County is 13.63 billion cubic feet. All but 2% of this stored gas is used out of state.

If we look to our southern neighbor, Hardy County, we find that Columbia Gas and Transmission, Inc., a subsidiary of NiSource, Inc., owns and operates a storage field there that has the capacity to store 29.60 billion cubic feet of gas. Columbia Gas and Transmission, Inc., operates the only existing pipelines in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. This pipeline runs from just south of Levels and through the center of Hampshire County into Hardy County, accommodating the storage fields in both counties.

NiSource, Inc., a Fortune 500 company, has plans to construct pipeline loops in West Virginia and Northeastern Virginia. They were instrumental in expanding the storage facilities in Hardy County, including building a new compressor station and pipeline capacity. They are not only involved in natural gas storage, transmission, and distribution, but generating, transmitting, and distributing electricity.

As we follow the pipeline that snakes through Hampshire and Hardy Counties into Virginia, we discover that adjacent to it in Warren and Buckingham Counties, Virginia, are two gas fired electric power plants under construction, with more planned in the near future.

In 2008 Carrizo, LLC sought and acquired four permits to drill for gas in the Marcellus shale in Hampshire and Hardy Counties. They successfully struck gas. Now, if we connect the dots, or in this case, the gas wells, they are all in close proximity to the existing storage fields, pipeline, and other infrastructure needed to produce, store, and distribute natural gas to areas that are desperate for cheap gas and electricity.

This industry operates in secrecy to protect its self-interests. We can only surmise what the future holds.

--Jim Dodgins

1 comment:

John said...

Is there a map of the location for the storage facility and the existing gas lines? I own property in Hardy county & after the huge power lines projects coming thru this is also very troubling to me. Any info appreciated - thanks..