West VA Sees the Benefit of Shale Gas Boom

An increase in mining — including the Marcellus Shale natural gas play — has turbocharged the West Virginia economy. The Mountain State's economic growth was the third-highest in the U.S. during 2011, outpacing all but North Dakota and Oregon.

West Virginia saw a 4.5 percent increase in gross state product — which measures the economic output of a state — in 2011, far exceeding the slight growth recorded in Pennsylvania and Ohio during the same time period. The data was released Tuesday by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Pennsylvania saw 1.2 percent growth in economic production in 2011; Ohio saw an increase of 1.1 percent. That places Pennsylvania and Ohio in the middle of the pack in terms of growth, although both states have much more in economic production than West Virginia.

The big story in West Virginia? Mining. It was responsible for 3.89 percentage points of the 4.5 percent growth, the Bureau of Economic Analysis said.

"West Virginia was driven by some strong growth in the mining sector," said Cliff Woodward, an economist with the bureau. "It's almost the entire growth rate."

The Bureau of Economic Analysis data is preliminary, and it doesn't break out whether the mining increases are from coal or natural gas in the Marcellus or Utica Shales, although West Virginia has significant operations in both. That data will come in at a later date.

That mining is contributing greatly to the West Virginia economy is no surprise to Don Rigby, executive director of the Regional Economic Development Partnership based in Wheeling, W.Va. The liquids-rich and wet gas plays of the Marcellus and Utica shales include West Virginia, which gives it a good position in the industry's move toward liquids-rich and wet gas due to pricing.