Tomblin says special session likely for Marcellus Shale (video)
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By Steven Allen Adams | West Virginia Watchdog
CHARLESTON — West Virginia’s natural gas industry could receive an early gift from Santa in the form of permanent rules for Marcellus Shale drilling.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin told reporters this morning that a special session of the West Virginia Legislature could be likely if all parties can come to agreements on specific issues.
Lawmakers will be back in town Dec. 12-14 for monthly interim meetings. Tomblin said a special session could likely be called during that time.
“There will be a few tweaks to the bill that the subcommittee has recommended and hopefully we can get things agreed to with House and Senate leader in the next few days here and we’ll be able to call a special session to coincide with the December interim committees,” Tomblin said.
Earlier this month, the Joint Select Committee on Marcellus Shale passed draft legislation governing the fracking and drilling procedures used by companies to extract natural gas from underground. The Marcellus Shale Committee also drafted a letter encouraging House Speaker Rick Thompson (D-Wayne) and Senate President Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall) to support a call for special session to pass the bill.
Tomblin said the bill was being looked over by the Department of Environment Protection while members of his staff met with lawmakers, industry officials, environmentalists, and surface and mineral rights owners.
“We’ve said since the regular session that as soon as we can reach an agreement with the House and Senate leadership I would call a special session,” Tomblin said. “The interim committee has worked very hard over the last several months. They have come with a recommendation and our DEP is now looking at that. Our staff is meeting with all the stakeholders out there right now.”
Marcellus Shale, which stretches from New York to Tennessee, holds pockets of natural gas. Drilling companies use a combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing – using a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals – to break natural gas out of the shale formations.
The draft legislation, S.B. 424, increases permit fees to $10,000 for the first well and $5,000 for each additional well, giving the Department of Environmental Protection the authority to increase permit fees in the future with approval from the Legislature’s Rule-making Committee. The bill includes greater flexibility for the DEP to approve drilling permits.
The raised permits fees will allow DEP to hire more inspectors. The bill set salaries and qualifications from inspectors, with supervisors receiving $40,000 a year and inspectors receiving $35,000 a year. Inspectors need to have three years of experience in the oil and gas industry.
The bill gives more power to surface owners and concerned parties, setting public comment and public hearing rules. The bill requires operators to compensate surface owners for damages to property. Operators must give surface owners 30 days notice of their operation plans before enter a surface owners property, which includes a surface use and compensation agreement.
Tomblin said some provisions of the draft bill concerned the industry. The first concern was over specific requirements for well casing, which creates a barrier between the fracking fluid and groundwater. Tomblin said the DEP should have some flexibility to set casing standards.
“I think the way technology is changing right now, more of those decisions should be left up to DEP on the procedural way of casing wells,” Tomblin said.
The other concern, Tomblin said, was over a provision requiring the industry to report to the Legislature how many out-of-state workers they hire for Marcellus Shale jobs and how much they pay those employees. Unions have complained that drilling companies are no hiring enough West Virginia workers.
But many Marcellus Shale jobs are middle-skill jobs, requiring workers with two-year degrees or certificates. In West Virginia, 54 percent of jobs were middle-skills jobs in 2009, but only 45 percent of the state’s workers had middle-skill training. Middle-skill jobs will account for 48 percent of job openings between now and 2018.
Tomblin said requiring the industry to report out-of-state employees would be unfair and discourage the industry from setting up shop in West Virginia.
“That, as far as I know, would be the only industry that would have to report where their employees come from,” Tomblin said. “Obviously I’m 100 percent supportive of having West Virginians have those jobs, but at the same time I think that may put a burden on that industry that other industries in the state do not have.”
Watch Tomblin answer questions about Marcellus Shale below:
- Bill Maloney looking at second run for Governor of West Virginia (westvirginia.watchdog.org)
- Joint committee passes Marcellus Shale bill, calls for special session (westvirginia.watchdog.org)
Posted under Audio, Economic Development, Employment, Energy, Environment, Featured, Governor, House of Delegates, Legislation, Legislature, News, Regulations, State Senate, West Virginia.
Tags: Department of Environmental Protection, Earl Ray Tomblin, Legislature, Marcellus Formation, Marcellus Shale, Natural gas, Special session, Tomblin, West Virginia
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Regulating Marcellus shale drilling in West Virginia: Special Session possible in December, but Marcellus bill needs Improvements « Gas wells on the Monongahela
[...] in West Virginia. Now that the committee has completed its work (see coverage here, here and here), a special session to adopt new drilling regulations now appears likely, although the industry [...]