Drilling to unleash the gas trapped more than a mile below the surface requires a method called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." Fluids are pumped underground at high pressure to crack the shale so the gas can escape. The method uses millions of gallons of water and fluids that some argue can contaminate local water supplies.
Ireland said any proposed solution should use research and development and create a predictable regulatory process.
Taking it a step further, Kessler wants to create a West Virginia Future Fund that would take 25 percent from the severance tax collected from natural gas extracted in Marcellus Shale and deposit it in an endowment fund that couldn't be touched for 20 years. He said Alaska created a similar program using oil revenues and the state now has billions in the fund and no state income tax.
State Treasurer John Perdue said he would like to earmark revenues from Marcellus production for the state's roads. Perdue criticized the legislative leadership for not passing Marcellus regulations during the recent 60-day session.
Republican Mark Sorsaia called the Legislature's inability to deal with Marcellus Shale "another failure" and alleged that unregulated drilling is occurring in the state as a result.
Fellow Democrat and current Secretary of State Natalie Tennant also wants to use an unspecified portion of the severance tax revenue for improving three areas: Math and science education, community and small business development, and research and development of new technologies. Tennant echoed Perdue in criticizing the legislative leadership's lack of Marcellus regulation in its regular session.
Republican businessman Bill Maloney, a driller, said the state needs to focus on educating the next generation of workers who will work in the Marcellus fields.
"Marcellus is going to be huge," he said. "It's a pretty high-tech job running these $15 million Marcellus rigs and we need to train our work force to be with the industries of the future."
Mountain Party candidate Bob Henry Baber also wants the state's work force trained to work the Marcellus. Baber wants to see the state's vocational schools training their students to fill the needs of the state, such as being trained to work Marcellus drilling rigs.
Developing the Marcellus fields is more than just drilling. Kessler and acting governor Earl Ray Tomblin said West Virginia should take advantage of the spin-off industries that could be created.
Tomblin and Kessler said developing the Marcellus could aid the state's ailing chemical industry. Ethane, removed from methane, or natural gas, could be converted to ethylene -- a building block for the plastics and chemical industries.
Several candidates said building a plant in West Virginia to convert ethane into ethylene would be key to that development.
The May 14 primary and the Oct. 4 general elections are being held to fill the unexpired term of former Democrat Gov. Joe Manchin. Manchin was elected to the U.S. Senate last year to fill the unexpired term of the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd.