But the resulting bid to balance the pursuit of this energy source with the resulting environmental and surface owner concerns helped derail a regulatory bill during the year's regular legislative session. The state Department of Environmental Protection issued an emergency rule this summer on orders from Tomblin. Most involved in the issue say existing law limited that rule's reach, while environmental and surface owner interests complain that it could have been stronger.
David McMahon of the West Virginia Surface Owners' Rights Organization does not believe the committee will advance a bill.
"The interim process with the legislators in town irregularly for only short meetings is just not the right way to get comprehensive, complex, final legislation done," McMahon said.
McMahon has long lobbied to bring gas drilling and Marcellus issues before lawmakers and has often sparred with industry figures on these issues. He credits Manchin and the committee's other House members for their efforts. Questioning whether the industry's large and small operators even agree on some issues, McMahon said that "a bill that only contains what every member of the industry will agree to is not good for the citizen surface owners and the environment."
Two key industry trade groups, the state's Independent Oil and Natural Gas Operators and the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, have each written committee members to outline their concerns with several of the amendments previously added to the bill.
"We've got some major, major problems," said Corky DeMarco, WVONGA's executive director.
DeMarco said his group's objections to the bill go beyond some of the key sticking points, but also apply to the committee's decision to focus on the Marcellus field.
"That's one formation," DeMarco said. "If we get ready to drill into the Utica, are we going to have to write a whole new set of rules?"
Don Garvin of the West Virginia Environmental Council cited the industry's objections to question whether the draft bill can clear the committee. Garvin also said the bill falls short in such areas as withdrawals from area water supplies for hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, as well as the disposal of frackwater and the potential impact on public health.
"The bill's far from complete, in our opinion. You never get everything you want, but at what point do you say, 'OK go ahead?'" Garvin said. "It's looking more and more like we're going to be back at square one, or some new square, come January. Which I dread."
West Virginia lawmakers aren't the only ones examining Marcellus-related issues. U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. and Tomblin's predecessor as governor, is holding a field hearing Monday on the topic, as a member of the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee. That hearing, at Charleston's Robert C. Byrd U.S. Courthouse, will feature Garvin, Facemire and Tim Manchin, the senator's cousin, among its 11 witnesses.