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Legislature starts special session on Marcellus rules

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Legislators convened in special session Sunday evening to take up the governor's version of a bill to regulate Marcellus Shale gas drilling (HB401, SB4001), but whether they will be able to pass the legislation before the session ends is unclear.

"I think the House has problems with this, and the Senate has problems with it, and that the governor is going to have problems with the changes we make," said House Judiciary Vice Chairman Mark Hunt, D-Kanawha.

"I don't think it's a sure thing," he said of passage of the bill in special session. "I think it's 50-50."

In the House, the Marcellus Shale bill was assigned to Judiciary Committee, but the committee won't take up the bill until 9 a.m. on Tuesday. Hunt said that's to give House staffers time to go over the 99-page bill to correct any technical errors.

"It's going to take staff some time to get this bill, frankly, in order for the committee to review Tuesday," Hunt said.

The complicated, technical bill sets out standards and regulations for permitting for the burgeoning industry of drilling into the massive Marcellus Shale formation.

The committee has scheduled a public hearing on the bill for today at 4:30 p.m. in the House chambers.

In the Senate, the bill has to get through Judiciary and Finance committees, and Judiciary will meet today at 9 a.m. to begin work on the legislation.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, said he believes there's agreement on most issues with Marcellus Shale regulation, but said the unresolved issues are daunting.

"There's a handful of issues people are pretty worked up over," said Palumbo, who said he's optimistic the Legislature can reach a resolution on the bill in the special session.

Meanwhile, Dave McMahon, lobbyist for the West Virginia Surface Owners Association, said the governor's bill substantially waters down proposals in a draft bill completed last month by a House-Senate select committee.

"It's a long bill. It's a very complex bill," McMahon said. "On our first read-through, it's a very bad bill, and as surface owners, we oppose it."

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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