MICHAEL FELBERBAUM

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) â¿¿ Energy company Dominion Resources Inc. has announced a project to harvest, process and transport growing volumes of wet natural gas in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio, one of many projects in the energy-rich Marcellus region.

The Marcellus Shale is a rock bed the size of Greece that lies about 6,000 feet beneath New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. Geologists say it could become the most productive natural gas field in the U.S., capable of supplying the entire country's needs for up to two decades by some estimates.

Most energy companies, both producers and utilities, believe stricter federal regulations for coal mining and emissions are coming. Utilities are swapping out coal-fired power plants for cleaner-burning natural gas turbines.

Dominion's Marcellus 404 project, designed to handle up to 300,000 thousand cubic feet per day of natural gas, will initially provide 45,000 thousand cubic feet per day, the Richmond, Va., company said late Monday. It also plans to provide fractionation capacity for 32,000 barrels per day of natural gas liquids.

As part of the project, Dominion said it plans to locate new processing facilities in north-central West Virginia so it can then deliver the natural gas into Dominion Transmission's system or other gas outlets.

It also said it is seeking permission to convert an existing transmission line in Ohio and West Virginia into a wet gas service line so that producers can tap directly into the pipeline.

Dominion said it plans to meet with interested parties to discuss the project. Once it receives sufficient support, it will begin finalizing the project design and negotiating agreements. Service will begin about a year after receipt of adequate support for the project.

"Our expertise is processing and transporting Marcellus, and so we've got quite a few projects already announced in that frame of mind," said spokesman Dan Donovan.

The cost of the project is unknown until it determines the size of the project, Donovan said.

The announcement comes about a month after Dominion agreed to sell its Appalachian exploration and production business to Consol Energy Inc. for $3.475 billion, a deal that is expected to close by the end of April.

The company also announced Tuesday that it will team up with Exterran Holdings Inc. to provide increased natural gas processing in the Appalachian Basin. Exterran will build two natural gas processing plants in Ohio and West Virginia. The two plants will be owned and operated by Exterran under a twelve-year services agreement with Dominion. Construction is expected to begin immediately.

Dominion produces electricity, natural gas and oil and has the nation's largest natural gas storage system. It operates in 14 states and serves retail energy customers in a dozen states.

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