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The Free Press WV

►  WVDEP Offering Training on Natural Gas Electronic Permitting

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s (WVDEP) Division of Air Quality (DAQ) is offering free in-person training on the G70-D General Permit Electronic Submission System (ESS) for the natural gas industry and consultants.

The training session will be held Tuesday, July 25 from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at WVDEP headquarters in Charleston.

An ESS portal is being developed for the G70-D Natural Gas Production Facilities Class II General Permit registration application. The training will detail how to properly complete an electronic application, which will be available August 01.

Seating is limited and is being offered on a first-come, first-serve basis. To register, email Jennifer Rice at no later than Friday, July 21.

For more information on WVDEP’s ESS, go to https://apps.dep.wv.gov/eplogin.cfm.


►  Most Elkview Mall Stores Returning After Bridge Repair

A bridge that was washed out in flooding last year is being replaced at a mall in West Virginia, and almost all of the businesses are expected to reopen.

The representatives of the businesses and rent documents from Crossings Mall owner Tara Retail Group indicate 23 of the 26 businesses open at the Elkview mall when the June 23, 2016, flood occurred are expected to reopen.

The new bridge is expected to be ready to cross in July.

The bridge connected hundreds of West Virginia residents to their workplace, but bankruptcy sparked legal battles and delayed the repairs until a federal bankruptcy judge approved a bridge financing plan.

Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper says the return of most of the businesses shows the community’s resiliency.


►  West Virginia Expert Offers Tips to Avoid Tick Attacks

A West Virginia University Extension Service expert wants to help residents of the state avoid attacks by ticks this summer.

Entomology specialist Daniel Frank says three things that can help are mowing grass frequently, trimming trees and using insecticide when appropriate.

The university says the most common tick varieties found in West Virginia are lone star tick, blacklegged tick and American dog tick.

Frank said in a news release from the university that one good way to avoid tick-borne diseases is to inspect your body regularly for ticks. If one is found, just remove it and kill it.

Frank says the longer an infected tick is attached to the body, the more likely it becomes that it could transmit a disease-causing pathoGeneral He says with Lyme disease, for instance, ticks would have to be attached at least 36 to 48 hours.


►  YouthBuild assists WVDNR with Shavers Fork River trout habitat project

Students with Elkins-based YouthBuild North Central recently worked with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) Aquatic Habitat Enhancement Program to restore fish and wildlife habitats at the site of the historic logging town of Spruce, near the head of the Shavers Fork River. Since the old town was abandoned and demolished in the 1940s, the site had remained largely unforested.

With the cooperation of the State Rail Authority, the Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad, Cass Scenic Railroad, Snowshoe and landowner Steve Callen, DNR and West Virginia University led an ambitious reforestation project at the remote site, with a primary goal of improving trout habitat in Upper Shavers Fork.

Two dozen students and staff from YouthBuild North Central worked with DNR and WVU staff on the project. They planted, limed and fertilized more than 2,600 trees and shrubs over the course of a week in May.

The goal of YouthBuild is to give young adults the tools to find and keep a good job. YouthBuild helps young adults become responsible members of their families and communities by strengthening their educational backgrounds, teaching them marketable skills and entrepreneurship, and instilling leadership values that relate to home, work and community. YouthBuild participants earn money while they get valuable hands-on work experience.

David Thorne, a DNR Fisheries biologist who oversaw the project, explained that the reforestation effort was focused on establishing fast-growing trees on riverbanks to shade the water and reduce water temperatures to levels preferred by trout. Riverbanks on both sides of more than a mile of Shavers Fork and a tributary received plantings during the project. Thorne praised the work of the YouthBuild participants as essential to the effort.

“Our planting window was very tight and we simply could not have completed this ambitious project without the great work of YouthBuild,” Thorne said.

This work is reinforced with classroom instruction, job shadowing and personal guidance. GED preparation and testing is another key component of the program. Out-of-school youth ages 16 to 24 are eligible to apply.

The program, which lasts between six and 10 months, is funded from a variety of state, federal and nonprofit grants. More information can be found online at the YouthBuild website: rchawv.org/youthbuild/youthbuild-3.html.

The goal of the DNR Aquatic Habitat Enhancement Program is to enhance aquatic habitats for fish and anglers. The program is funded with fishing license revenue, federal excise taxes on fishing equipment and frequent grant funding from the National Fish Habitat Partnership. The WVU Natural Resource Analysis Program is an integral partner with DNR in the statewide habitat effort.


►  EQT moves to next phase of shale gas strategy

The Marcellus Shale gas revolution is moving out of its first phase of growth at any cost and is transitioning to its second phase of focusing on shareholder returns.

That’s the philosophy EQT Corp. is taking following its announced $6.7 billion acquisition of Rice Energy. Once it closes, the acquisition creates the largest natural gas drilling company in the nation based on fourth-quarter 2016 production numbers.

The deal also triples EQT’s pipeline capacity to move gas from Appalachia to customers and ports on the Gulf Coast.

“It is my belief that we are in the second phase of the shale gas — I guess you can call it revolution. And the high-growth models of the first phase I don’t think are going to work in phase two. We really need to be focused on creating real value and getting that value directly back to shareholders,” EQT President and CEO Steve Schlotterbeck said June 19 in a conference call with investment analysts following the announcement of the merger.

“We will have to determine what the appropriate growth rate is, but that growth will likely be certainly within cash flow and most likely below our cash flow so that we can return cash to shareholders,” he said. “And we will have to study what the best method of doing that is, whether it’s share buybacks or reestablishing a meaningful dividend. But I think it’s critically important that we get there really as soon as practical.”


The Deal

Under terms of the deal, each Rice shareholder will receive 0.37 of a share of EQT stock, plus $5.30 in cash for each share of Rice. EQT will issue $5.4 billion in equity, pay $1.3 billion in cash and assume about $1.5 billion of Rice’s net debt and preferred equity. EQT’s shareholders will own 65 percent of the combined company, and Rice will nominate two directors to EQT’s board.

The transaction is expected to close in the fourth quarter. In it, EQT acquires 187,000 acres of Marcellus Shale from Rice in Greene and Washington counties in Western Pennsylvania. It also acquires 64,000 acres of Upper Devonian Shale in Pennsylvania, 105,000 acres of Utica Shale in Pennsylvania and 65,000 Utica Shale acres in Ohio. Rice has no acreage under its control in West Virginia.

EQT also acquires Rice’s midstream assets, which it will drop down to its own midstream operation after the deal closes.

“This transaction brings together two of the top Marcellus and Utica producers to form a natural gas operating position that will be unmatched in the industry,” Schlotterbeck said in the company’s news release announcing the acquisition. “Rice has built an outstanding company with an acreage footprint that is largely contiguous to our existing acreage, which will provide substantial synergies and make this transaction significantly accretive in the first year.”

Most of the acreage EQT acquires from Rice is contiguous with acreage EQT controls in Pennsylvania. Schlotterbeck said the consolidation of acreage will allow wells to have longer laterals.

“This transaction is driven by our strategy to significantly improve returns on invested capital and capture capital and operational synergies, driven by a 50 percent increase in lateral length in Greene and Washington counties,” Schlotterbeck said in the conference call.

“By extending laterals from 8,000 to 12,000 feet, the well returns will increase from 50 percent to 70 percent at a $3 NYMEX gas price,” he said. “We also will capture operational efficiencies through sharing of technical data and best practices, rig allocation, pad sites, water, access roads, etc.”


WV Impact

Although Rice has no holdings in West Virginia, but its experience in drilling in the Utica Shale in Ohio could help EQT’s test drilling of Utica wells in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Utica has drilled at least one Utica shale well in Wetzel County and has plans to drill another. It has also drilled Utica wells in Greene County.

EQT executives have said they want to get the cost of their West Virginia and Pennsylvania wells in the Utica down to the point they are competitive with Marcellus wells.

In the call, Schlotterbeck talked about what the Rice properties in Pennsylvania could do for EQT once the deal closes. He would not say how EQT will allocate its capital expenditure money next year. The deal won’t close until the fourth quarter, so it does not affect this year’s cap ex plans. Next year’s cap ex plan won’t be decided and announced until December, Schlotterbeck said.

One analyst asked about EQT’s plans for further development in West Virginia and Ohio, given its enthusiasm for what the deal means for returns in Pennsylvania.

“It will depend on the returns that are available in all of those areas,” Schlotterbeck said. “So, when we do our business planning, that will be one of the primary drivers.

“Ohio is pretty contiguous acreage and fairly long laterals. So, I think it’s got a good job to compete. And West Virginia, the consolidation efforts we’ve had over the past year have allowed us to lengthen laterals pretty considerably. So, there will certainly be areas in West Virginia, particularly when you include the liquids-rich areas of West Virginia that we won’t have in Pennsylvania.”

Schlotterbeck said from an economic standpoint, there will be areas in West Virginia that have shorter average laterals, but equivalent returns.

“So, I think there’ll be a place in our development strategy or development plans for that,” he said.

All three states will have a place in EQT’s cap ex plan for next year, but analysts can expect to see a strong focus on the core areas of Pennsylvania “where we have some excellent rock and the significant synergy potential between the two sets of assets,” Schlotterbeck said.


Looking Forward

“We’ll be weighing all of the factors and determining exactly when we get there and how far we go,” Schlotterbeck said.

“But I think it’s important for a company our size and in this phase of the shale gas economy, I guess I’d say, to start looking at more moderate growth rates, generating profits and returning those profits to shareholders.”

Schlotterbeck said that’s where EQT is headed throughout the next several years.

“I’m a strong believer that the grow-as-fast-as-you-can-at-any-cost model, while probably necessary early in the shale revolution, doesn’t work anymore and isn’t going to work anymore,” he said. “And for a company our size, you know, that’s far too risky of a strategy. So, we’re going to be more prudent. We’re going to have a moderate growth rate. …

“I think we will have the leading natural gas cost structure in the country with a long, long runway of opportunity. And I think that will generate the ability to grow at pretty attractive rates while giving cash back to shareholders. I think it’s going to be a pretty attractive value proposition.”    ~~  Jim Ross ~~


►  Swearengin prepares for campaign fight against Manchin

Paula Jean Swearengin spent the first 12 years of her life in Wyoming County before moving to North Carolina. She said she still remembers the color of the water she drank and bathed in prior to her move.

“Our water was orange with a blue or purple film. People called it ‘copper water’ back then,” she said. “Later it was tested, and it was acid mine drainage.”

“I thought my hair was red until I was 12 years old.”

Swearengin — whose grandfather, father, stepfather and uncle were coal miners — said coal mining has been damaging to her family and communities across the state.

“I’ve seen the regression, the boom and bust,” she said. “I’ve buried a lot of my family members because of coal. If they are still around, they are suffering from black lung.”

Swearengin moved back to West Virginia in 2001 after her grandfather was diagnosed with black lung disease. That spurned Swearengin to researching and advocating against mountaintop removal, going to political town halls and reaching out to elected officials about providing clean resources.

All of this led to Saturday when the 43-year-old, single mother-of-four Swearengin was handing out fliers and knocking on doors in Charleston as part of a canvassing event for her 2018 U.S. Senate campaign. Swearengin said after years of advocacy, something else had to be done.

“It’s gone on deaf ears,” she said. “We’ve had community support, but we haven’t had any support from our leadership.”

One of those political leaders is Senator Joe Manchin, who Swearengin is challenging for the Democratic nomination.

“He’s made it clear that he serves the coal industry and not coal miners and their communities,” she said. “It’s obvious that our leaders are not going to do anything and when coal is gone, we really don’t have a plan ‘B.’ We deserve a diverse and equal and fair economic infrastructure.”

Manchin and Swearengin have crossed paths before; when he was governor, Swearengin said she raised concerns directly to him regarding water quality in the state. After Manchin was elected to the Senate in 2010, Swearengin continued adding pressuring, attending forums and similar events Manchin held across the state.

That includes a town hall last February in South Charleston. Swearengin said she only knew about the town hall an hour before it began, and drove 75 minutes from her Coal City home to attend. She stood in line next to a coal miner waiting to talk to Manchin.

“When I got up to talk to him and I told him we deserve clean and safe jobs, he tried to put the coal miners and the crowd against me, saying we would have to agree to disagree,” Swearengin recalled.

“My family has died to power this nation, and he acted like he was immune and angered because we were begging for clean water.”

Swearengin said she has not contacted Manchin’s office since, adding there is no use after so many attempts.

Swearengin launched her campaign on May 9 in a Facebook video. In the video, she talks about the dangers of the state’s economy being based heavily on coal.

“We have to invest in ourselves, and we have to fight back,” she said.

Swearengin was then contacted by Brand New Congress, a political action committee formed by volunteers and staffers from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign. The Independent Senator won West Virginia’s Democratic Primary, beating eventual candidate Hillary Clinton 51 percent to 36 percent.

Swearengin is one of 14 candidates the organization is supporting, and the only Senate candidate currently under its banner.

At the canvass Saturday, volunteers were wearing purple shirts with Brand New Congress’ logo, which underneath read “Paula Jean 2018 for U.S. Senate, West Virginia.”

Justice Democrats, another political action committee, is also supporting the ticket.

Swearengin said she is not “against the coal miner,” but rather the silence regarding coal mining’s effects and its future. In the state’s current Democratic Party, however, she has not found a leader to guide West Virginia to a post-coal economy.

“Ken Hechler was a true public leader, a true Democrat,” she said. “He protested against mountaintop removal. He got arrested for West Virginia. He was a true public servant, and I admire him for that.”

Hechler died in December 2016 at the age of 102. Prior to his death, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives and as West Virginia Secretary of State. He was arrested in 2009 with 29 other marchers protesting coal mine sludge ponds in Boone County.

Another person Swearengin said she admired was Sanders, who she met during a March 2017 visit to McDowell County. She was seen Sunday at a Charleston rally Sanders spoke at regarding the Senate Republican health care legislation draft.

“Paula Jean 2018!” some yelled before Sanders took the stage, resulting in some audience members applauding.

Swearengin said Saturday she felt Sanders had real solutions to address the United States’ prominent concerns.

“People voted for Donald Trump because they are desperate to feed their children, but (Sanders) was the only one giving us real promises,” she said.

She added while Trump has repeatedly offered to bring back mining jobs, getting rid of regulations like the Stream Protection Rule is not the best solution.

“People will die from that. People will get cancer from that,” she said. “And what do we have to offer people? Still no jobs.”

Chuck Nelson was one of the dozen volunteers who walked door-to-door Saturday. A former coal miner who spent 29 years underground, he argued something has to be done regarding coal.

“I know how these companies and politicians treat the miners and the people of West Virginia,” he said. “Joe Manchin is a friend of the industry. He likes to paint the picture like he cares for the miner.”

Nelson said he met Swearengin through mountaintop removal activism.

“I remember when she first came on board and started this fight with us,” he said. “Paula has just turned into one of those leaders not only in our community but everywhere she goes.”

“She cares about people and the future of West Virginia.”

Swearengin said like Hechler someone needs to stand up for the average West Virginian.

“He was a hellraiser, and that’s the thing our leadership needs to know,” Swearengin said. “We have fought generation after generation of labor struggles. It’s not going to end in this generation. I’m a hellraiser, too, and I’m going to fight back.”

Swearengin is not the first person to announce their 2018 plans; Manchin and Representative Evan Jenkins, R-WV, have announced plans to run for Senate.

Former coal miner Bo Copley released a video in announcing May his intention to capture the Republican nomination, and an official campaign kickoff is scheduled for Monday.

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said in early June a decision regarding plans to challenge Jenkins and Copley will come in the next two months.


►  State School Building Authority Meeting Report

State School Building Authority member Tom Lange criticized SBA Executive Director Frank “Bucky” Blackwell and state School Superintendent Steve Paine Monday for a recent development involving the Nicholas County school system.

During Monday’s SBA meeting, Lange spoke out and said he didn’t like the way Blackwell and Paine worked together on an alternate proposal to the Nicholas County Board of Education’s consolidation plan.

“I just support letting the local boards of education do what they have to do in working in conjunction with the SBA,” Lange said. “Not the SBA developing plans for the (state Board of Education) and surprising them saying, ‘Here it is,‘” Lange said.

The Nicholas BOE voted in March to consolidate Nicholas and Richwood high schools along with the county’s technical center into one school. The plan also would combine Summersville and Richwood middle schools. The June 2016 flood destroyed three schools.

The state Board of Education refused to approve the plan at a meeting earlier this month and instead heard an alternate plan from SBA Director of School Planning and Construction Scott Raines. The plan would consolidate Richwood Middle and Richwood High into one school while merging Summersville Middle and Nicholas County High into a separate school.

Lange said the Nicholas County BOE should have been involved in the discussions of the alternative plan instead of it hearing about it for the first time at the state BOE meeting.

“Our executive director (Blackwell), who has been here for four months, he has our staff put a plan together without any knowledge to the Nicholas County Board of Education–that’s not fair to them,” Lange said. “I’m not for consolidation one way or another, I’m just defending the right for the (local) boards of education to do what they have to do.”

Lange said he is concerned the Nicholas County move may erode the trust other county superintendents have in the SBA.

“There’s a trust factor involved, ‘Do we trust the SBA to go along with our plan and if they haven’t are they going to surprise us and not share with us?’ That’s my concern–we have to be open and transparent,” Lange said.

Also during its meeting Monday, the SBA agreed on the allocation of $6.7 million to 10 school districts for Major Improvement Projects (MIP) funding. Fayette County received the most at $1 million for a project at Oak Hill High School.

Public Service Announcement…One of the best methods, “which the state will not mention” to control ticks, is to control the host varmints in your back yard. As a victim of Rocky Mountain spotted fever in my youth, I would not wish that on you, your children or grandchildren. Besides the fact it can damage your internal organs, the most intense part is the rash on your feet and ankles, and no amount of calamine lotion will help. It gets so bad sometimes, you are tempted to dip your feet in boiling water.

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