Marcellus Shale bill passes West Virginia Legislature (video)

By westvirginia on December 14, 2011
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Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, joined by senators and delegates, announced the passage of the Horizontal Well Act, regulating Marcellus Shale drilling in West Virginia. (Photo/Steven Allen Adams)

By Steven Allen Adams | West Virginia Watchdog

CHARLESTON — What started with some skepticism at the beginning of the week ended today with some certainty.

The West Virginia Senate and House of Delegates approved legislation creating a regulatory framework for Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling in the state. And while some lawmakers were unhappy with the bill, the vast majority voted in favor of the new regulations.

State senators and delegates joined Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin at a press conference this afternoon celebrating the achievement. The legislation, now known as the Horizontal Well Act, was first introduced Sunday.

“The potential this legislation holds for our state has proven significant,” Tomblin said. “The Marcellus Shale Horizontal Well Act is the catalyst we need to launch new job opportunities throughout West Virginia. I’m proud to say that many of those jobs have already begun. This legislation will spur many more.”

“At the same time, the act provides clear permitting regulatory rules for the industry to follow and the state Department of Environmental Protection to enforce,” he said. “These rules protect the environment and give our surface owners more protection.”

“This bill is not perfect, but it gives us a basic regulatory framework that we can move forward and maximize the opportunities with Marcellus Shale to employ more people in this state and make sure our waters are protected and our environment are protected,” said Senate President Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall).

“I give all the members of the Legislature credit for saying ‘this is too important, we’ve got to set this aside to help West Virginia, to regulate this industry so this industry has certainty when they start drilling in West Virginia, and our owners of the surface rights also are protected, and the environment we all live in is protected,” said House Speaker Rick Thompson (D-Wayne).

Watch clips from today’s press conference below:

The bill, a combination of legislation submitted by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on Sunday and amendments passed by the state Senate yesterday, applies to any horizontal well that disturbs three or more acres and uses over 210,000 gallons of water within 30 days. It sets raises permit fees by 900 percent, from $400 per well to a $10,000 permit fee for the first well and $5,000 for each additional well. Drillers would have to submit a water management plan detailing where their water comes from, expected volume, plans to dispose of the water, and require a listing of additives.

Companies would have to notify surface owners before filing a permit of their intent to survey between seven days and 45 days. Permits notices would be published in county newspapers and on a website maintained by the Department of Environmental Protection. Surface owners would get seven days notice before commencement of well work. The bill establishes a 625-foot buffer zone between well sites and homes or agricultural structures.

The House Judiciary Committee passed amendments last night requiring written public comments to be placed on the proposed DEP website where drilling permits would be posted, giving surface owners a say on whether pit liners or drill cuttings are buried on their property, and requiring the DEP to study what the proper distance between well pads and homes should be.

Other amendments added questions to the economic impact study regarding minority and veteran employment, gave authority to the DEP to create emergency rules for drilling in the Karst region of the state.

Del. Tim Manchin (D-Marion), the chairman of the Joint Select Committee on Marcellus Shale, was very disappointed in the bill, but said there were stiff enough good things in it for him to vote yes on. Manchin sponsored four amendments, including an amendment making it a misdemeanor for any employee or officer to intentionally make false representation. After discussion, Manchin pulled all four amendments.

“It’s important for that fellow sitting there signing off on it that he can be convicted of a crime,” Manchin said.

The House passed a strike-and-insert amendment substituting the Governor’s bill for the bill amended by the House Judiciary Committee. Del. Mike Manypenny (D-Taylor) attempted to get support for another strike-and-insert amendment to replace the bill with the draft legislation created by the Joint Select Committee on Marcellus Shale last month. The Manypenny amendment failed.

“This sacrifices our land, water, and air for a few bucks,” Manypenny said. “The Governor’s bill was cooked up in the back room by industry and lobbyists.”

The bill passed the House 92-5 with several Republicans voting against the bill, including Putnam County Delegates Troy Andes, Brian Savilla, and Jackson County Delegate Mitch Carmichael, the House Minority Whip.

“We have a regulatory scheme in place that has served our state very well,” Carmichael said. “We get caught sometimes in this political vortex that we have do something, when really nothing is an alternative that would serve our citizens better.”

Several Democrats who had expressed displeasure with the bill said it was more important to have a bill than no bill at all. Del. Tim Manchin, the chairman of the Joint Select Committee on Marcellus Shale, went through a list of complaints, but ultimately said he would support the bill.

“There are imperfections in the special session process,” Manchin said. “I think in some areas it simply doesn’t go far enough, but there are some good things.”

Del. Barbara Fleischauer, who quizzed DEP officials last night during the committee process, said she would also support the bill despite her disappointments with it.

“I’m very disappointed about some of the things that we weren’t able to do in this bill, and there’s a pretty long list of them,” Fleischauer said. “On the other hand, I think the notion is preposterous that this industry does not need more regulation.”

Del. Manypenny, who offered most of last night’s and today’s amendments, with very little success. Manypenny voted against the bill and said he already has 20 pieces of legislation he plans to offer in the January 2012 general session.

“Some of us may have lost the battle, but we haven’t lost the war,” Manypenny said.

The bill then went to the state Senate, where it was approved unanimously and without amendment.

Watch a montage of delegates debating the Marcellus Shale bill below:

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