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Senate quickly passes Marcellus legislation

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It took the state Senate a total of 16 minutes Tuesday to amend and pass, by a 33-0 vote, its version of the Tomblin administration bill to regulate Marcellus Shale horizontal drilling.

That was in stark contrast to the House of Delegates, where the Judiciary Committee spent hours Tuesday afternoon and evening analyzing and deliberating over the House version of the bill (HB401).

Committee members spent nearly four hours reviewing the bill, questioning staff attorneys, Department of Environment Protection Secretary Randy Huffman, and others about the details of the 99-page bill, prior to considering amendments.

Earlier Tuesday, the Senate passed 33-0 without debate its version of the bill (SB4001), after making several changes to the administration bill, including:

| Requiring operators to give surface owners a minimum of seven days' notice before entering properties to conduct surveys. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's bill set 72 hours' minimum notice.

| Requiring that public notice of horizontal drilling permit applications be published as legal advertisements in local newspapers. The governor's bill only required that the notice be posted on a proposed new DEP Internet website to be dedicated to Marcellus Shale horizontal drilling activity.

| Restoring language from the current surface damage compensation act that provides that the rights of the surface owners are equal to the mineral owners in determining compensation for surface area lost to drilling operations.

After the Senate passed the bill, Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said the legislation is not ideal, but is a good start to establish a regulatory framework for the burgeoning Marcellus Shale industry.

"Is it perfect? No, but do I think it's necessary? Yes." he said.

Kessler said that, as with all complicated regulatory legislation, any bill approved this week likely will be revised by future Legislatures, as circumstances require.

"If it needs tweaked, modified or changed, we'll do that," Kessler said of the legislation.

Kessler said he was not surprised the Senate passed the bill so quickly, without debate, noting the issue has been before the Senate for nearly two years.

"It wasn't a bill that was sprung on us," he said. "It's a topic every member of this body is fully acquainted with at this point."

Sen. Karen Facemyer, R-Jackson, was absent Tuesday. Facemyer was the only member of the House-Senate select committee to vote against the draft Marcellus Shale bill last month, calling it anti-business.

Later Tuesday evening, House Judiciary members adopted a strike-and-insert amendment replacing the original House bill with the contents of the bill passed by the Senate earlier in the day, a positive sign for reaching a House-Senate compromise on the legislation.

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


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