Curtis Tate Published

Gas Group’s Chief Talks About MVP, Carbon And Coal Competition

An aerial photo of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The unfinished project is seen in a trench in the middle of a green forest.
An aerial photo of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
Mountain Valley Watchers

The United States exported a record volume of natural gas in 2023, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Curtis Tate spoke with Charlie Burd, president of the West Virginia Gas and Oil Association, about the state’s role in supplying the global market.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tate: Who are the biggest natural gas players in West Virginia? Where does the gas go?

Burd: We have two of the largest natural gas producers in the country operating in West Virginia. Actually, EQT is the largest natural gas producer in the country. And Antero resources is the largest natural gas producer in West Virginia. And I believe I heard the number that about a third of our production here in the state, and we produce just less than 3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. It was 2.8 in 2022. And I’ve heard during the legislative session, that number may top 3 trillion for 2023. I haven’t seen those numbers yet. Because the reports aren’t due until like April, mid-April, but about a third, I believe, of our production is transported east to be converted into liquefied natural gas to be shipped across the oceans to our allies.

Tate: Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, was a game changer. When did production take off?

Burd: I think the first well was drilled in December of 2007, put into production in 2008. That was a Chesapeake well. We produced 256 (billion cubic feet) of natural gas. And now we’re producing round numbers that say 3 trillion cubic feet. So that’s where it started. And that’s where we are. And it has greatly increased from year to year. That 3 TCF, 96 percent of that comes from probably about 4,600 horizontal wells in 2022, 2.85 trillion cubic feet from 4,500 wells. And I think we’ve added about 100 wells. I won’t have the exact numbers for a couple of weeks. That’s where it all came from.

Tate: Where is the production concentrated?

Burd: If you were to look at a map of West Virginia, and look at I-79, which literally dissects the state almost straight up the middle of north and south. When you get to about Braxton County, and it all goes to the northwest. That’s where the wet play is. That’s where the more enriched natural gas with propane and ethane is, if you’re again using that as a kind of a guide, using 79 as a guide, anything to the east of 79 is pretty much in a dry play. It’s almost pipeline quality gas coming out of the ground there. 

Tate: What’s the difference between wet and dry gas?

Burd: Wet gas has the heavier hydrocarbons: propane, ethane, butane, isobutane. And what we call dry gas would be that gas stream that is just mostly methane. So in addition to methane, those other heavier hydrocarbons are what we delineate as a wet gas. And we produce somewhere in the neighborhood of 700,000 barrels of ethane and liquids a day in that northwestern tier of the state. And those products are extracted through two or three large processing facilities we have up in that also in that same general area. Those liquids are sent south and north, south into Louisiana and north into Canada to be further processed. Or put in a pipeline and shipped to where those liquids are used.

Tate: What does the Mountain Valley Pipeline mean for gas producers in West Virginia?

Burd: That pipe is what they call fully subscribed. Meaning that the end users that have already subscribed or purchased will be purchasing that gas in long term, fixed contracts for that natural gas. But it means a lot to us because it’s literally, probably one of the last major pipelines that may be built. And for West Virginia, unlike Texas, and other places that can move a lot of gas across their state and be intrastate, our situation is much different. We have to ship our gas out of state where there are markets. West Virginia is small in comparison to other markets. So our gas is moved through interstate pipelines out of the state.

Tate: Why is MVP one of the last major pipelines to be built?

Burd: I think you just look at the extraordinarily difficult process someone has to encounter to design and construct a pipeline in this country now, it’s almost impossible. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which was a Dominion project, another 2 BCF a day that would have gone to eastern markets and military use. That project got scrapped a couple years ago. Because, the cost overruns, and just the increased scrutiny of us to have a line crossing 200 feet under the Appalachian Trail. Not impacting the trail at all, but just because it, quote-unquote, “crossed underneath.” that there was a lot of outcry. 

Tate: Burning natural gas emits carbon dioxide and producing and transporting gas releases methane. Both are greenhouse gases. What is the industry doing to reduce those impacts?

Burd: Number one on our own, several years ago, the industry took upon itself to develop a program internally to reduce methane emissions. And here in the (Appalachian) basin, there’s lots of smaller conventional wells. And now in addition to the bigger Marcellus wells, we’ve reduced our carbon footprint here by something like 70 percent, over the last 10 years, just on initiatives, initiatives of our own, and then we get new legislation that says we have to do more. I mean, I think we’re still in the process of completing what we started on our own. Secondly, the methane that comes off of fugitive emissions that we would have when wells are put in, put into service, and methane doesn’t stay hovering over West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. It goes way into the atmosphere. And there’s no question that if this administration is serious about reducing global emissions, no one produces natural gas more safely, or efficiently, or environmentally sound. And we do that we do right here in this country. No one has the exacting standards for environmental and safety as the United States does.

Tate: Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia have moved sharply away from coal and toward natural gas for electricity in the past 10 to 15 years. Why hasn’t West Virginia?

Burd: Well, it’s not because of lack of effort to develop natural gas fired electric generation. We have tried, and there have been numerous projects that have been placed upon the table. I think, Curtis, choosing my words with you carefully here, we have a state that has historically believed its reliance on energy and jobs came from the coal industry. But at the hands of the EPA and others, this constant demand to reduce emissions, and produce energy cleaner has transformed all those states you mentioned to producing electricity with natural gas. West Virginia’s a bit behind, but it’s not because we’re not trying. It’s just that we find ourselves in a better place. Literally, every day when it comes to being able to compete for those projects evenly with all the same playing field with Ohio, Pennsylvania. I mean, you’re right, Ohio and Pennsylvania collectively have maybe two dozen plants, two dozen natural gas fired electric generation plants. We literally have one down there in Huntington.