WHEELING - While no definitive evidence has emerged as to whether global warming is fact or fiction, the discussion has prompted change on a local and global scale as companies look to make better advances in how they impact the environment and more strict government regulations continue to be handed down.
According to Ben Stout, associate professor of biology at Wheeling Jesuit University, since global warming has become a major issue over the past decade, a number of scientists and researchers have made it a point to examine how efficient our nation's energy production is, and not just for the environmental advantages.
"It used to be that nobody really cared about what we were putting into the environment and how we were doing things," Stout said. "Now, there is a focus on getting a better handle on those things."
Compresser stations such as this one in Wetzel County have come under scrutiny by local residents for the amount of pollution they emit into the air.
Locally, those companies include American Electric Power, where officials have said regardless of the validity of global warming, reducing CO2 emissions through the scrubber stacks is just good business practice.
Stout agrees, saying air quality is not the only thing that has been affected by industry in the Ohio Valley.
"When I was a kid, we would go to Pittsburgh and would hear about smog alerts because the air was so thick," he said. "But there were (other) things happening as well."
What affect does the prospect of global warming have on local energy production?
Given the changing policies from agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, companies such as American Electric Power are working to meet EPA mandates by installing scrubbers at power plants throughout the nation. Also, companies have become more cognizant of their impact on the environment and have been working to lessen their footprint.
Most notably, Stout said it is important to remember that whatever ends up in the atmosphere and potentially harms the earth's ozone layer will inevitably return to the earth in the form of precipitation. This precipitation can have harmful effects on crops or can cause pollution in drinking water supplies, which leads to even more problems.
Stout recounted the rivers and streams that he has seen over the course of his life and how there has been a noticeable drop in polluted waterways.
"We have gotten better control on environmental procedures, such as the Clean Water Act, and those things came about because of political will," he said. "Even as the industry here declined, they were still taking steps to be more conscious of the effects."
Stout said while environmental concerns are a main reason such changes have been made, the inability to accurately calculate how much of certain non-renewable resources, such as coal, that we have left is another stimulus for research and growth.
"You will hear figures that say we have 230 years of coal left, but none of my academic colleagues believe we have more than a 50-year supply," he said. He added that while there may be large deposits of lignite coal in the southern states, its worth is diminished by its low BTU value and inability to be easily accessed.
In addition to coal, Stout said there are many advantages to the natural gas industry boom in the region, which can be harnessed and used in a much cleaner fashion than coal. Still, some questions remain about the procedures involved in gaining access to the gas.
"I am cautiously optimistic about natural gas, with its effects on water supplies being my main concern," Stout said.
To access the Marcellus Shale, companies must drill a mile or more deep in the Earth, and then turn their drill bits sideways and drill horizontally. The well is cased in layers of cement to prevent water tables from becoming contaminated with fracking fluid, which consists of millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals pumped into the gas well to break apart the Marcellus Shale formation and released trapped natural gas.
Still, Stout said he does not foresee a stoppage in new ideas to not only find new energy sources but also regulate the ones being used now and lowering their impact on the ozone and environment.
"I think young people today are cognizant of the effects and are being smarter about their energy consumption," he said. "They seem to understand the benefits of renewable energy sources and how current sources have a negative impact on our world."