Judiciary Subcommittee A Report

From Dee Fulton
Date: 10 January 2011

Today Jim Sconyers, Nicole Good and I traveled to Charleston to attend the Meeting of Judiciary Subcommittee A.   When we arrived outside the meeting room, there were few in the hallway outside the meeting room and a colleague in the environmental community expressed pessimism that a quorum would show up.  

At the appointed hour, it looked like that prediction could be true, as few legislators were present.  However, Senator Herb Snyder, Senate Chair of the committee, announced that others were coming and the meeting would begin in 15 minutes.   And within that time frame, a quorum of senators and delegates arrived.  

The first agenda item was the fracking draft bill. Delegate Mike Ross (D-Randolph) immediately shared his opinion that the bill was too ambitious, taking on too much at one time.  Senator Frank Deem (R-Wood) expressed concern about regulation causing the industry to come to a standstill.  Sen. Mike Hall (R- Putnam) also expressed reservations.  Barbara Fleischauer (D-Monongalia) does not serve on the committee but had a seat at the table and adeptly raised questions (to which she knew the answers as a good lawyer does) to highlight why regulation is needed.  DEP general counsel Kristin Boggs was called upon to answer some questions.  She stated that there are currently 12 inspectors and 59,000 gas wells.  The DEP is calling for funding to increase the number of gas well inspectors to approximately 30.   Ms. Boggs shared that it is the opinion of WVDEP that 30 inspectors is an adequate number to meet the needs.  Senator Clark Barnes (R-Randolph) highlighted the need for more inspectors by establishing through questioning of Ms. Boggs that some wells get drilled, are fracked and produced all without benefit of inspection.  

 There was discussion about how much profit a gas well makes and whether a permit fee of $10,000 was reasonable.  The legal counsel for the Judiciary Committee estimated that each well makes a profit of $30-50 million.  The gas lobbyists laughed to express their feeling that that number was exaggerated.   (In fact,  Lee Avery, retired geologist from WV Geological Survey presented at a Watersheds Compact meeting and came up with a conservative figure of $20 million per well).   The point was made nevertheless that even if profit were $10 million per well, a $10,000 permit fee was a relatively small sum to pay.   

Finally, Del. Mike Caputo (D-Marion), House Chair of this committee, forcefully called for a favorable vote on the motion to endorse the draft legislation.  The bill was approved by voice vote.  No "nays" were heard.  

The coal slurry bill came up next.  Without further ado, a motion was accepted, a voice vote taken, the ayes prevailed over the few nays, and that bill received endorsement.  That was over within 2 minutes.

It was a good day at the Capitol in our opinion. 

Dee Fulton