MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Opponents of Marcellus shale gas drilling are demanding a moratorium on new West Virginia operations until tough laws are passed, enforcement is dramatically increased and water supplies are protected from overuse and pollution.
The Joint Select Committee on Marcellus Shale is taking comments on how to better regulate the rapidly growing industry at three public hearings in northern West Virginia, where the industry is in overdrive. The second, held at the West Virginia University College of Law, drew a standing room-only crowd of hundreds Monday night.
"Our water's at stake here. There are problems, and this is an emergency,'' said Maidsville resident John Garlow. Although acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has called for emergency rules to govern the industry until legislation is passed, "we needed them two years ago.''
Permit fees should be raised enough to cover all costs, including the salaries for an army of state inspectors and full repairs to damaged roads, he said. Garlow also proposed a 2-cent to 10-cent fee for every gallon of water gas companies withdraw to support hydraulic fracturing operations.
Dozens of gas workers defended their industry. From West Point graduates turned engineers to West Virginia natives who hunt and fish, they insisted they care about the environment because they live here, too.
"I'm an outdoorsman,'' said Stone Energy's Rick Toothman. "I spend a great deal of my time in the woods and in the streams, and the last thing I want to do is jeopardize it.''
Several ex-military engineers with Chesapeake Energy said the industry gave them an opportunity to return or relocate to West Virginia.
Chris Bartram said he started out "with a very, very cautious and watchful eye'' and is now confident in both his employer and its practices. Colleague Nate Stone, who served four deployments after leaving West Point, said he understands the notion of sacrifice and the need for independence from foreign oil.
"West Virginia has the opportunity to give this nation hope,'' he said.
Opponents dominated the podium for much of the night, demanding that any new legislation include public notice and comment requirements and a dramatic increase in state inspectors. Some also argued for tougher penalties in the liability sections of proposed legislation.