CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Governor's Office is refusing to make public correspondence between it and the oil and gas industry regarding potential new regulations on Marcellus Shale drilling operations.
Lawyers for Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, acting as governor, this week denied a Freedom of Information Act request from The Charleston Gazette for the records.
The Gazette had asked for correspondence between any outside parties and the Governor's Office concerning the drafting of Tomblin's July 12 executive order calling for emergency rules on drilling operations.
Tomblin issued the order -- requiring new rules from the state Department of Environmental Protection -- in response to growing public pressure following the failure of any Marcellus legislation to win approval earlier this year.
On Tuesday, the Governor's Office provided the Gazette with copies of dozens of letters from individual citizens and some environmental groups calling for a special legislative session or a moratorium on new drilling operations.
In a three-page letter, Deputy General Counsel Jeffrey M. Shawver said the Governor's Office had withheld an unspecified number of records that Shawver said were part of the office's "deliberative process."
Kurt Dettinger, Tomblin's general counsel, said in an interview that those withheld records include correspondence with various representatives of oil and gas companies and industry trade associations.
Dettinger said the Governor's Office "consulted with members of the industry seeking their opinions and advice and we believe the opinions and advice on a regulatory proposal are exempt under West Virginia's FOIA statute.
"We're not talking about hundreds of pages," Dettinger said. "There's not a significant volume of information that was withheld.
"But we feel strongly that the deliberative process is protected under West Virginia FOIA law," Dettinger said.
The Governor's Office cited the state Supreme Court's ruling in 1996 in a case brought by the Gazette to obtain correspondence between the developers of a proposed pulp mill in Mason County and representatives of the state Development Office.