Lawmakers Scale Back Proposed Marcellus Regulations
24 February 2011
By Alison Knezevich
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- With time running out, state lawmakers scrambled
Thursday to advance legislation regulating Marcellus Shale gas drilling
in West Virginia - and they significantly scaled back initial
The House Judiciary Committee cut a more than 200-page bill on
Marcellus issues down to 33 pages. The Senate Energy, Industry &
Mining Committee whittled 180 pages down to about 60.
The pending bills (HB2878, SB424) address permit fees, environmental
regulations, and protections for property owners, among other topics
related to the state's natural gas boom.
Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, said the House bill was "narrowed down
to the issues we could really agree on with the so-called stakeholders."
"We need to start somewhere," he said. "It's going to be a work in
Neither the House nor Senate bill allows for the practice of forced
pooling, where someone who owns mineral rights can be forced to sell
Forced pooling has been "the lightning rod" in the Marcellus Shale
debate at the Capitol, said Corky DeMarco, executive director of the
West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, which supports the
"We would have preferred a comprehensive program dealing with this
issue, so we don't have to come back...in the future," DeMarco said.
"We need certainty in this industry."
Earlier this week, House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley said his
committee might not have time to finish its bill because the complex
legislation could not please various interest groups, from the drilling
industry to environmentalists to surface- and mineral-owners.
On Thursday, the Harrison County Democrat said the committee found a
way to advance the legislation, though it wasn't "as comprehensive as
originally hoped and planned."
The bill approved by the House Judiciary Committee leaves intact some
crucial protections, said Dave McMahon of the West Virginia Surface
Owners Rights Organization.
"It leaves out some important things, but it leaves in some important
things," McMahon said. "And we're glad it's moving."
The House legislation would require drillers to notify surface owners
before they survey land. The Senate version doesn't include that
The House bill says that companies must get certification from the
Division of Highways to show that they're following road maintenance
Well operators also would have to file reports disclosing the chemicals
used in the hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," process.
The House bill does not specify permit fees. Instead, it leaves those
figures up the state Department of Environmental Protection. Delegates,
facing tight deadlines, said they did that so that the bill would have
a chance of circumventing the Finance Committee. By Sunday, bills must
be out of their house of origin.
Delegates also removed provisions requiring mediation between surface
owners and drillers.
The amended Senate bill, which was originally written by the state DEP,
slashes proposed permit fees.
Those fees would help the state hire more inspectors. West Virginia
currently has only 14 inspectors for 59,000 wells.
The initial version had included $10,000 fees for each horizontal well.
Now, it would impose $5,000 fees for the first well on a pad site, and
$1,000 for each subsequent well.
Also, the Senate bill would only apply new regulations to Marcellus
wells, not conventional wells, too.
On the House floor Thursday morning, Delegate Barbara Fleischauer read
her colleagues a news report from Washington County, Pa., where three
workers were injured Wednesday night in a fiery explosion at a
Chesapeake Energy drilling site.
The Monongalia County Democrat urged them to pass legislation that
would fund inspectors and protect the environment and workers.
"We don't have to ask permission from the gas companies to protect the
public," she said. "That's not our job. Our job is to protect the
Delegate Sam Cann, D-Harrison, spoke after Fleischauer, telling fellow
lawmakers to consider the economic benefits Marcellus development could
bring the state.