West Virginia signs investment pact with China Energy

West Virginia officials announced an agreement on Thursday with China Energy Investment Corp. Ltd. for the company to invest $83.7 billion in shale gas development and chemical manufacturing in West Virginia over 20 years.

State Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher and China Energy President Ling Wen signed the memorandum in Beijing as part of the U.S.-China trade mission and an overall $250 billion of planned Chinese investments in the U.S. It came during President Donald Trump's visit to Beijing.

West Virginia commerce officials said project planning is already underway and will focus on power generation, chemical manufacturing and underground storage of natural gas liquids and derivatives. The state was chosen for its position as an energy producer and its large underground shale gas reserves.

"West Virginia has actively sought direct foreign investment to strengthen and diversify our economy," Thrasher said. Toyota, Hino Motors, Gestamp, Sogefi and other corporations with international parent companies have created jobs and generated income in the state, and they expect China Energy to bring mutual benefits, he said.

Thrasher has revealed that early projects are two natural gas-fired power plants, likely in Harrison and Brooke counties, in a deal valued at more than $1.3 billion with construction starting in the next six to eight months, according to the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

West Virginia University since 2002 has been jointly researching coal liquefaction with mining company Shenhua Group, which merged with energy company Guodian Group to form China Energy.

The university said it will work closely with state officials to help coordinate the investment, with funding focused on developing the proposed Appalachia storage and trading hub.

In August, the university released a study by researchers from the geological surveys in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio of geologic formations that could be used by developers to build underground facilities to store natural gas liquids from gas wells.

Last year, the university and Shenhua signed a partnership agreement to establish West Virginia as the priority area for the company's U.S. investments, natural gas power plant development, shale gas development and upstream and downstream businesses, technologies in clean coal and power and training.

Brian Anderson, director of WVU's Energy Institute, called Thursday's memorandum "a game changer for the state."

The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and other environmental groups oppose the storage hub, saying it would create a major petrochemical region with public health dangers and contribute to global warming.