(03/21/2011)
By Bob Weaver

The WV Legislature ended its session without passing legislation that would bring regulations to Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling, touted as an economic boom for the Mountain State.

The issue was heavily lobbied by the natural gas industry, with WV's state senators elated over the promise of a major economic boom.

Angry words flew Saturday night as the state's lawmakers ended their 60-day session without passing anything to regulate Marcellus Shale drilling, although they did pass a bill to give tax breaks to the natural gas and related manufacturing industries.

Delegate Bonnie Brown, D-Kanawha, questioned why legislators would approve these incentives without adopting Marcellus regulation proposals.

"So we're just giving them a tax break before we even regulate the industry?" she asked.

Dave McMahon of the West Virginia Surface Owners' Rights Organization questioned why the bill languished in the final hours of the session.

Without new regulations, McMahon said, the state "should not be giving out any more permits than they can review and inspect."

One change adamantly opposed by the industry was changing the rule that now allows drillers to drill within 200 feet of a residence or water well.

There was a dispute over the notification of landowners that would require drillers to give 30 days notice following surveying.

The industry has declined to provide a list of contaminants in the water used for the fracking process.

Industry lobbyists want inspectors to be under the state's Oil and Gas Inspectors' Examining Board, which environmentalists and surface owners say favors the industry.

Steve Conlon of Wetzel County, said the legislation is especially important to West Virginians who live near the drilling, showing photographs of the destruction of the county's secondary roads.

Conlon described how asphalt roads have turned to mud because of heavy trucks carring drilling equipment, causing access problems for rural residents.

He carried a binder of photographs depicting water pollution and other results of Marcellus development.

"Because of the lack of oversight, we have had to be the eyes for the state," he said.

Pennsylvania's newly elected Republican governor Tom Corbett is refusing to tax Marcellus Shale drilling, an industry that is becoming a big part of that state's economy.

Still, the state has implemented a number of regulations regarding Marcellus development.

Corbett received nearly $1 million dollars for his campaign from the drilling industry.

Meanwhile, Gov. Corbett is asking the state legislature to cut funding to some state colleges and universities by more than 50%.

NY state has banned the drilling until regulations can be placed on the industry.


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