CHARLESTON, W.Va -- Candidates for West Virginia's special gubernatorial election say West Virginia should capitalize on the vast wealth the Marcellus Shale natural gas field has to offer, but how they would manage this modern-day gas rush varies.
The mile-deep Marcellus Shale is believed to hold trillions of cubic feet of gas. An industry study conducted by West Virginia University reports that during 2009 the Marcellus field generated $2.3 billion in business volume to the overall economy and $14.5 million in sales, income and business franchise taxes. The benefit is expected to multiply many times over as the field is more fully developed.
But tapping the wealth has raised concerns on several fronts, from well spacing, advance notice to property owners, road damage and permit fees, to the potential effects drilling would have on area water supplies.
Since legislation regulating Marcellus development failed to clear the Legislature earlier this year, candidates running for the May 14 primary have seized on the opportunity to comment and present their own plans on how to best control and profit from drilling the field that stretches from West Virginia to New York.
Legislation cleared the Senate, but didn't make it through the House of Delegates. The Legislature's failure to enact legislation was noted by several gubernatorial candidates.
Given the complexities of the issue, House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, said the matter should be dealt with in a special session so it could be the sole issue attracting lawmakers' attention. Thompson is one of six Democrats seeking his party's nomination next month.
Before holding any session, Thompson said he would bring regulators, drillers, landowners and others together to hash out a comprehensive legislative package. It would, he said, require some "give-and-take and compromise" to create such legislation.
Mountain Party candidate Jesse Johnson would seek a moratorium "until all the studies are in and it's been proven that there will not be the health impact that we're seeing with mountaintop removal and our water quality."
Johnson said the state has an opportunity to be pre-emptive with Marcellus Shale and to make sure that the drilling benefits the state and its residents. The state shouldn't be overly concerned that regulations would drive drillers away. "The bottom line is they will always come back" because the gas just gets more valuable the longer it's underground.
Eastern Panhandle Republican Larry Faircloth is concerned about landowners' rights. Faircloth told the Huntington Herald-Dispatch he would submit legislation to protect property rights and the quality of water systems.
Speaking to the same paper, Republican "Bill" Clark wants to see the state set a severance tax that is competitive with other states also drilling the Marcellus.
Faircloth and Clark are two of eight Republicans seeking their party's nomination. Of the eight, Cliff Ellis, Mitch Carmichael and Clark Barnes did not return calls from The Associated Press seeking comment. Democrat Arne Moltis did not mention the Marcellus Shale in his interview with the AP.
Former Republican secretary of state Betty Ireland and acting Senate president Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, share Johnson's concern over damaging the state's water systems.