West Virginia lawmakers hope to focus this week on a single, catchall bill for developing the Marcellus shale natural gas field.
The legislation up for review seeks to address industry needs, environmental concerns, and the rights of mineral and surface owners.
The proposal would cover everything from applying for needed permits and drawing boundaries for drill sites to storing the large volumes of water needed to extract the gas.
Operators face $10,000 permit fees in the bill, along with paying $100 annually for the water storage impoundments. The measure also increases potential civil penalties, from a maximum of $2,500 to one of $10,000.
The provisions that may spur the most debate would allow for forced pooling. This would compel an owner with a minority share of a gas reserve to agree to its development -- with compensation -- if the other owners are already on board. That would change the current practice, known as rule of capture, which can exclude owners from drilling agreements and leave them uncompensated.
Much of the 207-page bill tweaks or rewrites existing state law. It also includes a number of new sections, including one addressing the unconventional drilling practices employed by Marcellus developers.
House committees have held hearings throughout the session to field comments from state officials, operators, surface and mineral rights owners, environmentalists and other interested parties. A House Judiciary subcommittee crafted the wide-ranging bill up for review, releasing copies Friday.
The Marcellus shale holds trillions of cubic feet of trapped natural gas, according to industry estimates, making it one of the richest developable reserves on the planet. The massive rock formation is buried a mile underground, beneath a region that includes much of West Virginia.
A recent industry-funded study said that more than 2,800 Marcellus wells have already been permitted under existing policies. It also found operations under way in 45 of the 55 counties, though operations have largely focused on northwestern West Virginia, where the rock's thickness and the pressure of the trapped gas appears best for drilling.
Tapping the Marcellus shale requires drilling horizontally under the ground, and can involve drilling in multiple directions beneath a single well site. Operators extract the gas though hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, by cracking the rock with a large-volume mix of water, sand and chemicals.
Both the cost of developing wells and the potential payoff are in the billions of dollars. The legislation recognizes this scale in its language.