CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State lawmakers might change the way West Virginia hires oil and natural gas inspectors, after complaints that the current system favors industry and creates red tape.
On Thursday, members of a legislative committee focused on Marcellus Shale drilling regulations discussed abolishing the West Virginia Oil and Gas Inspectors' Examining Board, which administers tests and keeps a roster of inspectors.
The legislative committee, which is working to craft a House-Senate compromise on Marcellus regulations, has been making changes to a measure passed by the Senate earlier this year (SB424). Members met for about two hours Thursday, but did not vote on an amendment to abolish the board.
The state Department of Environmental Protection and advocates for surface owners want to get rid of the board. DEP says it's too bureaucratic, while the advocates say it gives the industry too much sway in who inspects well sites.
The board is supposed to be made up of five members, including the chiefs of DEP's oil and gas office and its water resources office. The governor appoints the other members: two industry representatives and one citizen to represent surface owners and environmental organizations.
The slot representing surface owners and environmentalists has been vacant for about five years. Both DEP and the West Virginia Surface Owners' Rights Organization submitted names to former Gov. Joe Manchin, but he never appointed anyone to the citizen post.
Lawmakers on Thursday heard from the two industry representatives, Bob Radabaugh and Stan Masoner.
They disagreed with the argument that they have too much power on the board, saying they only help with the testing and do not have a say in who gets hired. That decision is made by DEP.
"Our job is testing only," Radabaugh said.
"We don't actually do the selection and hiring," Masoner said later.
After the meeting, Dave McMahon of the surface owners group said his organization still believes the industry has too much influence on the board.
"Yes, the DEP gets to pick which people on the list they can hire, but the industry gets to say who gets on the list," McMahon said.
The board also has some involvement in firing inspectors, McMahon added.
Legislative audits since the late 1990s have recommended abolishing the board, DEP General Counsel Kristin Boggs told the committee.