CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In front of the Joint Committee on Natural Gas Development on Tuesday, Bob Orndorff state policies director at Dominion Energy, said legislators must support pipeline development in West Virginia and stand up to rogue environmentalist groups.
“The natural gas pipeline industry is creating a bright future for the state of West Virginia,” he said. “These pipelines have driven the economy in these counties and the state for the last two years and probably for the next couple of years.
“I think it’s important for the legislature to stand up to these rogue environmental groups to say you’re going to impact our economy in West Virginia, you’re going to impact job growth in West Virginia. They’re under the same game plan as they did when they attacked coal. We’re seeing the same things happening.”
Orndorff said one of the environmental groups helped shut down production of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline through West Virginia. In early December, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act and National Forest Management Act when it issued two approvals for the pipeline to construct along the Appalachian Trail.
He said the Dominion Energy project lost around 4,000 workers across three states right before Christmas because of the halt in the project even though the company rerouted the project 30 miles to find the proper crossing on Monongahela national forests, costing them time and money.
The case will be heard in March by the 4th Circuit. If Dominion Energy wins the case, the construction of the pipeline may continue but if it does not, Orndorff said they will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The project could pick back up in April at the earliest and Orndorff said local economies are also suffering because of stoppages like this one.
“The bottom line is these are men and women from West Virginia who went through training programs, joined unions, moved their families, invested money who are not working,” he said. “I don’t think that is the story being told to the general public.
“These people in the communities of Marlinton and Green Bank, West Virginia. We had shop owners open up and start a new business because they knew they would generate income of the next several years. Those businesses are not generating income.”
Orndorff stated many positive numbers in front of the committee for the industry adding more jobs in the state and improving local economies.
Orndorff said since 2016, employment surrounding pipeline projects has increased by 28 percent from just over 13,000 to more than 22,500 jobs in West Virginia. Total direct industry wages continue to rise from $1.1 billion in 2016 to $1.5 billion in 2017, a 37-percent increase. 2018 is on pace to pass 2017 according to Orndorff, already reaching $935 million in the first two quarters.
“You see the numbers, they are unbelievable,” Orndorff said. “Increase in employment, tax revenues that we never predicted would happen. I think it is up to the legislature to promote policies to enhance the growth and development of the industry.”
For example, Orndorff said the Mountain Valley pipeline project had a local tax revenue of $17 million in West Virginia.
He continued by saying that the total number of direct and indirect jobs added by the natural gas and pipeline industry in the state is nearly 71,000 jobs and the industry is added nearly $8 billion to the state’s economy. West Virginia now ranks 8th nationally in the number of workers supported by the industry as a percentage of all employment in the state.
So what happens when the all the jobs added when projects are complete? Orndorff said workers then have plenty of options because of the world.
“One of the good things is happening right now is these people are receiving formal training,” he said. “They will be employable in the future. When the industry and the liquid are being used here, we create the cracking opportunities and the manufacturing opportunities, these individuals will be employable in those fields.”
The 2019 legislative session begins Wednesday as Orndorff also asked the committee to consider new legislation to support the natural gas industry in the state. Orndorff wants the committee to consider amending Senate Bill 390 and try to enhance the community college system to support the industry.