CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Tomblin administration weakened an executive order on the regulation of Marcellus Shale gas drilling just hours before the order was signed and publicly announced, according to records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
Language in the order was rewritten to limit a new requirement for public notice for drilling permit applications and to reduce the oversight of oil and gas operations by registered engineers, the records show.
The changes are reflected in drafts of the executive order released in response to a Gazette FOIA request and a draft posted online by the industry group Energize West Virginia.
Details of why the changes were made are not fully available, in part because the governor's office has refused to make public its correspondence with industry lobbyists who were helping craft state drilling policies.
Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, acting as governor, issued the executive order to require 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.
Drafts of Tomblin's order were provided under embargo to some news organizations in the hours prior to an announcement scheduled for a 2 p.m. press conference on July 12. Drafts were also provided to at least one industry group, but not to citizen groups that were advocating tough drilling rules.
The draft order would have mandated that DEP provide public notice for any Marcellus Shale applications for drilling within any municipality or within a one-mile radius of the boundary of any municipality.