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Lawmakers share opinions on Marcellus bill session

December 13, 2011
By Anthony Gaynor, Staff Writer , The Inter-Mountain

Lawmakers began a special legislative session Monday to consider a proposal from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to begin regulating Marcellus shale drilling.

The Legislature began the process of weeding through the 99-page bill Monday.

"We are trying to get our arms around this bill," said Delegate Bill Hartman, D-Randolph. "We are trying to determine the differences between the committee bill and the governor's bill."

Tomblin's proposal was drawn largely from a draft endorsed by a special joint legislative panel last month, and legislators are debating everything from the fee structure for natural gas drillers to road maintenance and repair costs associated with drilling.

Hartman believes the legislators will be in Charleston most of the week considering the bill that would charge natural gas drillers $10,000 and $5,000 permit fees, among several other items.

The bill would sets standards designed to protect the state's water resources including private wells, streams and wetland areas. It also would grant additional rights to surface owners and restrict well locations near residences, although some environmental groups say the restrictions don't go far enough.

Hartman said the legislation is important for the state's economy and that a lot of "stakeholders" need to be considered.

"It is an issue we will be working on for a long time," he said. "When the bill passes, we will most likely be tweaking it later. I would say it will pass later this week."

He added that he wasn't sure why such a short time frame was chosen for the special session.

Delegate Denise Campbell, D-Randolph, said there was a push for a bill regulating Marcellus shale drilling during the regular 2011 legislative session, and it's certainly a huge topic for the state.

Campbell said several residents from Pocahontas County visited her office Monday and shared concerns over the bill.

"They wanted to make sure the bill is protecting landowner rights and our water," she said. "Drilling can be a good thing as long as we protect our water and landowner rights."

She said the bill is still going through the process and the Legislature is coming to the amendment stage.

"There is a lot of information and things to consider," she said. "We don't want to rush something. It can help our economy, but we want to make sure we do it responsibly."



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