Lawmakers have for at least three years failed to approve new DEP rules or pass tougher legislation to regulate the Marcellus drilling. Earlier this year, Tomblin ordered DEP to write emergency rules, but critics say they didn't go nearly far enough.
After legislation failed during this year's regular session, a committee chaired by Manchin and Sen. Doug Facemire, D-Braxton, began meeting monthly to try to work out a compromise. They started with a bill that passed the Senate this year, and have so far added more than two dozen amendments.
Major provisions of the bill would set new standards for gas well casings, increase permit fees to help add more state inspectors, establish a 650-foot buffer zone between wells and homes, require public notice of permit applications and force companies to disclose how many of the jobs created by the drilling boom go to West Virginians.
DeMarco said his group doesn't think lawmakers should be passing a Marcellus Shale-specific bill, and should instead focus any new restrictions on particular drilling techniques, not specific gas formations.
And DeMarco said that modern drilling is still evolving, so companies want lawmakers to be flexible in their approach, so the industry can change its operations without coming back to the Legislature for permission.
"You've got an evolving industry," DeMarco said. "Let's not make these things so definite that we have to come back time and time again."
Manchin said some language has already been significantly weakened to get industry support. For example, lawmakers had considered requiring a 750- or 1,000-foot buffer between homes and gas wells.
Manchin said he's had a difficult time getting industry officials to outline what language they would support, and only recently convinced them to put their concerns about proposed legislation in writing.
"They come to hearings and they say they want reasonable regulation, but we never hear what they think is reasonable," Manchin said. "We make changes to make them happy, and they're still not happy. You try to find a balance and the industry still won't support it."
Burd, though, said the industry is upset at being singled out with language that would require companies to disclose how many of their employees are from West Virginia and how many are from out of state.
Manchin said the language is justified, giving questions being raised by residents in gas-producing counties about whether local citizens are getting the new jobs being created by drilling.
"Why should we listen to some professor theorize about jobs when we can have the hard data about the jobs?" Manchin said. "If jobs are the reason why our people should be inconvenienced by roads and trucks and scarring of the land, why shouldn't we know how many jobs?"
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.