In the last few years, the national conversation on energy has intensified. It is a conversation in which Lawrence County has a say on many levels.
Whether it be natural gas, clean coal technology, nuclear power or others aspects, the national conversation is also Lawrence County’s conversation.
During the height of the gasoline price hike this summer, television viewers no doubt saw commercials that touted the benefits of alleviating our dependence on foreign oil by tapping more deeply into the nation’s natural gas supply.
The Marcellus Shale, often referred to as a giant natural gas field that runs through parts of Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and West Virginia, is said to contain an estimated 60 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Could that gas be used to fuel our cars?
“You see in certain places, other countries, that cars have gone to using natural gas,” Scioto County Economic Development Director Steve Carter said. “I am aware in Brazil that cars run on ethanol or natural gas. Brazil is pretty much self-contained, not so much dependent on foreign oil.”
Carter pointed out, though, that if carmakers begin producing natural gas-powered cars, gasoline filling stations would have to begin offering natural gas with their petroleum.
Lawrence Economic Development Executive Director, Dr. Bill Dingus, said Lawrence County does have a natural gas supply both on public lands as well as private lands. There are, for instance, two natural gas wells at The Point Industrial Park and a third one is being drilled.
Dingus cautioned that natural gas, like crude oil, is a non-renewable resource, meaning the supply will eventually run out. He said he would prefer to see the continued used of natural gas for home heating. Increased demands on the natural gas supply could drive up costs, he pointed out.
“We need to be cautious about becoming too
dependent on natural gas,” Dingus said.
Although little coal is mined in Lawrence County, coal is still very much king in Appalachia and Dingus pointed out that coal plays a large part in the county’s economy, if not through actual mining, then indirectly through mining-related businesses.
At least eight Lawrence County companies make or repair mining equipment. Lawrence County is also home to barge companies that ship coal.
“If mining stopped today, it would probably put a thousand Lawrence Countians out of work,” Dingus said.
J.J. Maynard, of Meehan Steel, said that company rebuilds steel parts for mining equipment, such as bearings, for Fletcher Mining in Huntington, W.Va.
“They’re not our biggest customer but we definitely do a lot of work for them,” Maynard said.
Engines, Inc., makes coke oven doors for Peters Equipment, a company that builds facilities for the coke and coal industry. The South Point company shipped six railcar loads a few weeks ago, two railcars are waiting for shipment.
Each railcar can carry 40 oven doors. Engines, Inc., also builds highwall mining equipment. Owner Carl Grover said right now, 50 percent of his business is mining-related. And his products are shipped not only all over the country, but all over the world.
“We ship to Canada, to Australia, to Mexico,” Grover said.
Grover noted that highwall mining equipment used to be made in eastern Europe but the weaker dollar makes it cheaper to build the parts here.
Both Dingus and Carter said they would like to see more development in solar energy.
Dingus said some studies have shown that while Ohio does not have sufficient capacity that could sustain development of windmills, wind turbines and other such development, other studies have shown solar energy is quite another matter.
Carter said another potential economic development area is nuclear energy.
“Energy consumption is growing so greatly I think there is a need for every kind of energy resource we can get,” said Carter, who said advances in nuclear energy could make it an option for the future as well.
Carter pointed out that Ohio education and business leaders are seeking to make the state an energy research and development leader. He said research is ongoing in the solar, hydrogen fuel cell and other fields of alternative energy.
Dingus pointed out that while new sources of energy are being developed, Americans need to rethink their energy use and embrace ways to reduce their energy consumption, such as mass transit, a necessity in other areas but not nearly as widely used in this area.
“I applaud the Lawrence County Commission and their wisdom in pushing for a Tri-State transit system,” Dingus said. “But this is only a start to where we need to be going.”