Lawmakers try again on Marcellus regulations
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia lawmakers are taking another shot at developing rules for Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.
A new joint committee made up of state Senate and House of Delegates members met for the second time Wednesday, hearing from representatives of the environmental and surface owners communities.
Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, who is acting as governor, announced Tuesday that he has ordered the state Department of Environmental Protection to issue emergency rules for Marcellus drilling. But lawmakers on the new committee will still try to devise permanent legislation, after the House and Senate failed to agree on Marcellus regulations earlier this year during the regular legislative session.
The committee heard Wednesday from Don Garvin, lobbyist for the West Virginia Environmental Council, and Dave McMahon, co-founder of the West Virginia Surface Owners' Rights Organization.
"I'm not sure anybody -- the Legislature or DEP -- comprehends the aggregate impacts of these operations," Garvin told them. "It could end up looking like Wyoming, where it's just one well pad after another ... for miles."
Garvin made a point to tell legislators he worked with his father in the oil and gas industry.
"This isn't my dad's oil and gas industry," he said. "This is much more complex, and it's just bigger in every way."
The committee plans to use a measure passed by the Senate earlier this year (SB424) as a framework. Among other things, the bill addresses illegal dumping, notice to property owners, and damage to state roads. Still, it is not as strong as legislation that was backed by the House, which never voted on the bill.
"Of all the bills that we saw during [the legislative session], they're starting with the weakest one," McMahon said after the meeting.
McMahon urged lawmakers to consider a state-funded study of whether soil and water near well sites are contaminated.
He also showed them posters of active well sites and a video shot from the porch of a West Virginia woman's home, where she hears drilling 24/7.
Sen. Doug Facemire, co-chairman of the Marcellus committee, took issue with the images McMahon showed, saying those were the "extreme examples" and that well sites can be reclaimed. He compared the gas industry to lawyers.
"There's good ones and there's bad ones," the Braxton County Democrat said. "But as a whole, I think the industry tries to do a good job."
Jim Sconyers of the Sierra Club said Facemire was trying to skew people's perception when he said well sites are eventually reclaimed.
"What he didn't want anybody to be thinking of later is that [drillers] come back two years later and do the fracking again," he said. "The scars are renewed again."
Sconyers said Facemire acted like "a spokesperson for the gas industry, not for the citizens of West Virginia."
Facemire said he is "in no way a spokesman for the industry."
"I'm not an oil and gas man," said Facemire, who owns grocery stores. "I'm a grocer."
Committee members will meet again at the beginning of August.
Co-chairman Delegate Tim Manchin, D-Marion, said he expects that House members will try to add stronger provisions to the Senate bill.
He said he's pleased with Tomblin's executive order, but said lawmakers would continue work on a permanent bill.
"We're not going to feel constrained by that," he said.
Among many other things, the House and Senate have disagreed on distances that operators can drill from residents' homes and wells, and notice to property owners.
Reach Alison Knezevich at email@example.com or 304-348-1240.