WatchBlog: West Virginia Marcellus Shale bill a victory for Tomblin

By westvirginia on December 15, 2011
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By Steven Allen Adams | West Virginia Watchdog

CHARLESTON — It might just be a beginning, but West Virginia now has permanent regulations for horizontal drilling, which will provide certainty for industry tapping into the state’s Marcellus Shale region.

It also gives Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin a fantastic Christmas present that will come in handy during his 2012 re-election effort.

Of course, I don’t think that was his main motivation. Tomblin never really had much of a choice but call a December special session. When the Joint Select Committee on Marcellus Shale passed their draft legislation last month, lawmakers dared Tomblin to call a special session, saying the ball was now in his court.

He called their bluff. His office worked with the industry, environmental, and surface owner groups and crafted their own Marcellus Shale bill. Many of the Joint Committee members felt the Governor’s bill gutted their draft bill. The environmental and surface owners groups hated it as well. Industry said they didn’t like it, though they were too quick to say they’d accept it.

So the Legislature went to work. The state Senate amended the bill, requiring operators to notify surface owners of planned entry of the property between seven and 45 days, exempting any agreement between the surface owner and operator from the bill’s requirements, making surface owners and mineral rights owners equal, and requiring operators to have notifications published in the county newspapers with information about the DEP website.

Other Senate amendments, passed in committee, would require operators notify surface owners by certified mail of intention to drill on the property, require the operator to find the physical address if the the address of record is a lien holder, require mineral owners be notified of intent to drill, require the DEP to report any waiver of minimum requirements on a yearly basis, and grandfather in wells that already have a permit and well applications, exempting them from the new bill.

The House of Delegates, in committee, amended the bill, requires 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 cutting are buried on their property, requiring the DEP to study what the proper distance between well pads and homes should be, adding questions to the economic impact study regarding minority and veteran employment, giving authority to the DEP to create emergency rules for drilling in the Karst region of the state, and adding certain misdemeanor criminal penalties for dumping frack fluid, and job training opportunities for minorities.

The House passed the bill 92-5, with even most displeased lawmakers voting for it. Two Democrats and three Republicans voted against the bill. The Senate side, the bill passed 33-0 with only Sen. John Pat Fanning (D-Wyoming) absent.

Those are large margins to win by. Yes, not all lawmakers were happy with the final result, but even those lawmakers felt the bill, as amended, was a good first step. Likely the law will go through many changes as new problems arise, as new technologies are created, etc.

The law will now give the industry ground rules, which should now free up companies to start seeking permits. Now that companies know what to do, the natural gas supply will be more assessable, which could mean our chances of getting an ethane cracker just went up.

Combine the Marcellus Shale victory with the Public Employee Insurance Agency Finance Board’s decision to cap premiums for retirees at $4,116 per year, which effectively cut the estimated $10 billion other post-employment debt down to $5 billion. OPEB reform will be a big part of Tomblin’s State of the State address in January, with a bill forthcoming.

A Marcellus Shale bill and a good chance for real OPEB reform? Businessman Bill Maloney, if he gets the Republican nomination for governor again in May, will have to do more than drag out the greyhounds again if he wants to make a dent.

Because Tomblin is no longer acting. This week showed that he is the Governor.

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Posted under Blog, Economic Development, Energy, Environment, Governor, House of Delegates, Legislation, Legislature, Politics, Regulations, State Senate, West Virginia.
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