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Interests attack Tomblin's 'tweaks' of Marcellus bill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Environmental and surface owners' groups gathered in the Capitol Rotunda on Monday to vent their opposition to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's reworking of a House/Senate select committee's bill to regulate Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.

"What we now have is a Christmas tree for the drillers -- it's an industry bill," said Gary Zuckett, director of the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, after details of the governor's version of a Marcellus bill emerged during the first day of a special session addressing the topic.

"Legislators need to take it back and do it right," Zuckett said. "The whole process was hijacked in closed-door meetings after so much work was done all summer."

"We worked for three years with the DEP and the Legislature to try to develop a respectable regulatory framework," said Don Garvin of the West Virginia Environmental Council. "The bill the select committee came up with did not have everything we wanted, but the governor's bill has nothing we wanted. The Legislature should kill it if its key provisions are not eliminated."

Referring to comments by Tomblin earlier this month that he planned to make a few "tweaks" to the select committee's bill, Carol Warren of the Ohio Valley Environmental Council said bill the governor is proposing "is not a tweak but a hatchet job. He cut out everything that protected citizens."

"The governor's bill is taking us backward," said Julia Archer of the West Virginia Surface Owners' Rights Association.

Archer said the governor's bill, among other things, removes incentives for drillers to work with landowners on well location sites and access roads. It also allows drilling to take place within 625 feet of a home, and allows for variances to drill even closer.

The governor's bill does increase the distance from natural gas wellheads to water wells from 225 feet to 250 feet, but allows for variances to that rule also, she said. Some Marcellus drill pads are large enough that they could cover landowners' water wells and still meet the proposed 250-foot setback.

Archer said the governor's bill also calls for the study of air emissions and the effects of burying drill cuttings and drill mud in onsite pits, but does not fund them. She said state surface owners want the governor's bill to die and have the issue of regulating Marcellus Shale drilling taken up anew during the regular Legislative session.

"The select committee's bill "was already a compromise," said Jim Sconyers of the West Virginia Sierra Club. "Now it is unacceptable. Any bill we would support must contain at least the protections found in the compromise bill."

Among reasons Garvin cited for opposing the governor's draft bill were its removal of public notice and comment provisions for Marcellus permit applications, and eliminating the DEP's authority to deny drilling permits based on "special conditions," like proximity to drinking water supplies, municipalities, natural landmarks or historical sites.

Also cited were the governor's bill's removal of the Office of Air Quality's authority to regulate air emissions at drill sites, its elimination of a requirement to notify adjacent property owners of drilling plans, and its removal of a buffer zone requirement for drilling in the vicinity of streams that don't run all year long.

Delegate Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor, said the changes made in Tomblin's draft bill ignored the work done by the select committee.

"It's our time to hold the industry accountable," he said.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.


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