BEALLSVILLE - Communication is key when natural gas drillers work in areas that also have active coal mining operations, as leaders of both industries said they cooperate with each other as much as possible.
"We invite oil and gas companies to contact us so that we may share information and ensure the safety of our coal miners," said Gary Broadbent, assistant general counsel for Murray Energy Corp., parent company of the Century Mine and Powhatan No. 6 Mine in southern Belmont County and northern Monroe County.
"Murray Energy Corp. has a longstanding commitment to working with oil and gas companies to ensure that coal, oil, and gas resources are fully and safely developed," he added.
The commitment to work together has not always been as strong, as the two sides have been fighting a turf war, of sorts, over the past several years. The new direction is welcome for area residents, as the safety of coal miners and gas drillers is paramount in any operation.
Robert Murray, founder and chief executive officer of Murray Energy, appealed a decision by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources that would have allowed Oxford Oil to drill wells right into the middle of his coal mine, causing a potential safety issue.
"The Ohio Reclamation Commission has ruled in Murray Energy's favor, and Oxford Oil is now appealing this matter," said Broadbent regarding the current status of the situation with Oxford.
"Murray Energy is confident in its legal standing and looks forward to the oral arguments, which are to be scheduled later this year."
The potential for natural gas rig workers and frackers - many of whom are used to working in states such as Texas and Louisiana that have little or no coal mining - to make a mistake is real. On June 7, 2010, drillers struck a "shallow pocket" of methane gas in an abandoned coal mine near Moundsville, a little more than 1,000 feet below the surface. In addition to injuring several workers, this ignited a large fireball that burned for days.
There have not been any reports of similar events in the Upper Ohio Valley since, however.
The coal and natural gas industries are seemingly competing for the same customers, as increasingly more electricity generation is moving toward natural gas power.
However, Michael McCown, vice president of Gastar Exploration Northeast, said his natural gas drilling company does not view the coal industry as a direct competitor.
"Consol Energy (McElroy Mine) owns the coal rights under our Marshall County operations. We work well with them. We inform them where we want to drill so that it does not create a problem for their operations," said McCown.
For its part, Consol is now drilling its own natural gas wells under the CNX Gas Corp. banner.
The company believes current and potential future environmental regulations make natural gas a more viable long-term option, according to Consol investor statements.