This article originally provided by The Charleston Gazette

January 27, 2011

Lawmakers look at Marcellus Shale drilling issues

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Some state lawmakers are getting a crash course in Marcellus Shale drilling issues, one of the most complex topics they'll confront this legislative session.     

Members of the House Finance and Judiciary committees met Thursday for an informal presentation about West Virginia's natural gas boom. 

"It is the biggest gas play in our lifetimes," House Judiciary attorney Joe Altizer told lawmakers. "I don't think people really understand how significant this particular gas shale is going to be to the state."

The Marcellus Shale is one of the world's richest natural gas basins. It lies underneath parts of West Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

It has enough gas to meet the nation's needs for 20 years, Altizer said.

Marcellus drillers use a controversial practice called hydraulic fracturing or "fracking." In it, millions of gallons of water are mixed with chemicals and pumped underground to fracture shale deposits.

The House committees plan to have several more information sessions about Marcellus drilling. 

"It's a very complex [issue] and it's going to take a long time to get everybody up to speed," Delegate Mike Manypenny said after the meeting.

The Taylor County Democrat said his constituents are concerned with issues like landowners' rights and water quality.

"We don't want to stop the development and production of oil and gas in West Virginia," he said.  "We just want to make sure it's done responsibly."

Delegate Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur, said residents in his district have similar concerns.

Hamilton said most gas companies in his area are drilling responsibly.

"Unfortunately, in any business, you get two or three bad players in 100, and it taints everyone," he said.

In Upshur County, people from states including Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas are working on the drilling operations, Hamilton said.

"They're bringing a lot of employees in," he said. "We thought this would be a job boost for our area, but not a lot of locals are being hired."

He added that he has been criticized by the industry in the past few years for speaking up about his concerns.

"I don't want to see it shut down. That's a valuable part of my local economy," Hamilton said. "But we can't operate like it's 1930 or 1950."

An interim committee has proposed sweeping regulations for Marcellus drilling.  They include rules for fracking, protections for local roads used by drillers' heavy equipment, and rights for landowners.

The bill proposes $15,000 initial permit fees, up from the $550 for initial permits for conventional shallow wells.

The state Department of Environmental Protection also is developing proposed regulations for Marcellus drilling.

Reach Alison Knezevich at or 304-348-1240.



West Virginia Surface Owners' Rights Organization
1500 Dixie Street, Charleston, West Virginia 25311