Inside Shale – The Voice of the Natural Gas Industry
By Nicholas “Corky” DeMarco, Executive Director, WVONGA
In July, 2011, WVONGA had an interest in sponsoring a weekly radio talk show focusing on the natural gas industry. Hoppy Kercheval was asked to host the program, but his obligation to Metronews Talkline, a two hour program that airs at 10am Monday-Friday statewide prevented him from doing the program. So Kercheval suggested West Virginia Radio Corporation’s Morgantown Market Manager, Gary Mertins.
So I asked Hoppy, “Who is this guy?”
“Mertins manages multiple radio stations, and really hasn’t done not any steady on-air work in years,” said Hoppy. I asked a few members of our Public Relations Committee to assist in the vetting of Mertins and found he began his radio career as an intern in the news department for Kercheval 33 years ago at WAJR-AM in Morgantown. “Upon being approached with this proposition 13 months ago, I was told I would get to do a weekly talk show, but there’s only one catch, I can only talk about natural gas,” said Mertins.
“Kercheval stayed with the on-air news and talk path and I chose a different direction in sales and management. I always enjoyed being on the air, but quickly realized there may better financial opportunities in other parts of the business. But the thought of doing a talk program just once a week intrigued me and, as co-workers all know, I’ve never shied away from a microphone,” said Mertins.
I don’t think Gary knew much about the natural gas industry so we asked him to do some research. “I googled some articles, watched some video’s on the internet, including a not so flattering CBS 60 minutes report and I questioned, what have I got myself into? This industry looks horrible.”
After speaking with industry representatives and doing more research including a visit to a local controversial Marcellus drilling site in Morgantown, I think Gary began to understand how much misinformation that was out there. So he and his radio producers set out to provide a chance for natural gas companies and the people of the industry to respond to all the negative news. “I attended one open legislative forum at the WVU law school and I listened to dozens of fracktivist and environmentalists speak one after the other. They were countered by just two industry representatives and I thought this industry really needs a voice to tell its side of the story,” said Mertins.
The list of guests on Inside Shale Weekly talk show has included drillers, industry fracking and water experts, economists, geologists, lawyers, politicians and other industry insiders. In March, Inside Shale won the West Virginia Broadcasters Association Excellence in Broadcasting Award for Best Network Special Series Program. In April, the program expanded to an hour and is now heard on multiple radio stations in the northern West Virginia Marcellus Shale region.
Inside Shale Weekly has had to tackle tough issues. “When Chesapeake Energy wanted to locate a drilling pad close to Wheeling Park High School, that raised a lot of concern. We invited a company spokesperson to respond and a state legislator from that area joined the show and we talked about it. We get complaint calls about roads and traffic and we have some angry land owners who wish they owned the mineral rights underneath their property. These are difficult issues for people and we try to get them out in open and discuss them. The natural gas industry isn’t perfect, but through our show the industry is trying to be responsive to the concerns of West Virginians rather than hiding from them,” said Mertins.
“When you see what potential this industry has, it really is exciting. The development of the Marcellus Shale is impacting all of us. We have lower home heating bills. The industry has created thousands of jobs and more will be coming, not just in the natural gas industry, but from manufacturing that will benefit from the abundant natural gas supply we produce. Royalty money is coming to some and it’s affecting many communities as donations are made to needed community projects. And we may all be driving cars fueled by natural gas in the future,” said Mertins.
In fact, Governor Tomblin recently announced the exploration of NGV vehicles for use by the state’s fleet on the Inside Shale Weekly program. “I think most West Virginians want to see us be energy independent. It’s neat to think that we can play a role in that effort,” said Mertins.
Now, I’ll bet that even in casual conversations between Gary and his friends and co-workers often include tidbits and news he’s learned about the natural gas industry. I often joke that he sees himself as a self-proclaimed fracking expert. What WVONGA has done with Inside Shale is exactly what we wanted to do; frame the discussion rather than react, have an media outlet that provides an open dialogue, bring experts to answer questions and very importantly allow for public input.