CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Draft legislation aimed at West Virginia's share of the Marcellus Shale natural gas field would change the way the state hires inspectors and expand public notice and comment regarding drilling operations, under amendments approved Monday by a special House-Senate committee.
The interim committee returns Wednesday to consider more changes to its regulatory bill for this rich reserve. But while the lawmakers hope to craft a measure capable of passage during a special session this year, Monday's meeting helped underscore the continuing differences among interested parties.
For instance, the committee's co-chairman, Sen. Doug Facemire, questioned the amendment abolishing the West Virginia Oil and Gas Inspectors' Examining Board.
The board provides the annual exam for people applying to become inspectors, and then compiles the list of qualified candidates. Facemire spoke after James Martin, chief of the Oil and Gas office at the Department of Environmental Protection, and told lawmakers he was generally pleased with his inspection force.
"The main concern here is to have the best inspectors in the field that we can have," said Facemire, D-Braxton. "I just want to make it perfectly clear, because when we eliminate this board, we won't know what we're going to have. We do know what we do have with this board."
Legislative audits have recommended abolishing the board, finding it duplicates duties already handled by the Division of Personnel for hiring other types of inspectors. Monday's amendment, approved narrowly, would have the division oversee the oil and gas hiring as well.
"It's not that we're going to get candidates with no qualifications," said Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia. "The personnel [agency] will do what it always does, and will do what it does for all the other inspectors of the DEP."
Delegate Woody Ireland, R-Ritchie, said a key role of legislators is to cut unneeded bureaucracy. He also noted that the board has long lacked a citizen member, leaving just two industry representatives along with Martin and a second DEP official.
DEP has also recommended getting rid of the board.
"It is an overlap of resources or overlap of responsibility," DEP lawyer Kristen Boggs told the committee, adding that the board "doesn't add any value to the services of state government."