CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A contentious draft bill to impose new regulations and higher fees for drilling for natural gas into the Marcellus shale fields advanced out of a legislative interim committee Monday -- but without a recommendation for its passage.
The bill would set new regulations for drillers tapping into the Marcellus shale field -- a massive natural gas basin, but one that requires hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," which involves injecting a mixture of water and chemicals under high pressure to release the natural gas reserves contained in the shale.
Critics contend that tapping into the Marcellus shale field comes at a high cost, ranging from contamination of ground water to damage to local roadways from moving heavy equipment to the drilling sites.
"I think this energy needs to be developed, but it needs to be developed responsibly," Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, said of the proposed legislation.
Earlier during the committee meeting, Department of Environmental Protection general counsel Kristen Boggs said that because of funding issues, the department has only 12 inspectors for the 59,000 active natural gas wells statewide.
"I know one thing for sure: Twelve inspectors for 59,000 wells certainly doesn't add up," Caputo said.
The proposed bill would raise about $3.5 million a year to hire additional inspectors by increasing the permitting fee for Marcellus shale field drilling to $15,000.
Natural gas drilling permits now cost as little as $400 per well.