CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The permit fees oil and gas companies pay to drill in the Marcellus shale formation in West Virginia could jump to $10,000 for each new well, an increase that industry trade groups strongly oppose.
A special House-Senate legislative panel approved an amendment to a bill Thursday that would require oil and gas operators to pay $10,000 for the first well on a site and $5,000 for each subsequent well.
The increased fees would generate an estimated $2.5 million a year for the state Department of Environmental Protection, enough to hire 15 additional staffers.
"This is one of the most important things we're going to do -- provide enough funding to have a sufficient number of inspectors in the field," said Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, who serves on the joint committee writing proposals to regulate drilling in the Marcellus shale. "It's important we take this up and get the people in the field."
Gas drillers now pay about $550 for each well permit. A previous proposal - backed by oil and gas trade groups in West Virginia - would have raised the fee to $5,000 for the first well on the site, and $1,000 for each additional well. The trade groups have said the $10,000 fee would hurt independent drillers.
State Sen. Karen Facemyer, R-Jackson, who voted Thursday against the $10,000 fee, said the proposal could prompt companies to take their business to neighboring states, such as Ohio and Pennsylvania. Facemyer said it didn't make sense to "lock in" a fee now because a new law to regulate Marcellus drilling likely wouldn't take effect until July.
Facemyer also noted that DEP officials don't know yet how much the new regulations will cost to implement.