But eventually, Huffman also explained that -- unlike with surface coal mining -- no federal law gives EPA any role in the permitting requirements for natural gas drilling itself.
"We've talked a lot about primacy today, but there isn't a counterpart oil and gas regulatory program on the federal level," Huffman said.
In fact, one of the more controversial elements of the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, used by Marcellus drillers is language passed by Congress in 2005 to exempt this activity from needing an underground injection control permit under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.
Jon Capacasa, water protection director for EPA's regional office, noted that exemption and said it leaves his agency more limited authority and makes it unlikely that EPA would step in absent state legislative action.
"I don't think there's any risk of that happening," Capacasa said.
Capacasa also praised DEP for taking early action to prevent polluted fracking water from being disposed of at local wastewater plants that weren't equipped to treat it, and said the Tomblin administration's emergency rules are a good first step.
"This is a rapidly evolving industry," Capacasa said. "It needs some new controls."
But Don Garvin, lead lobbyist for the West Virginia Environmental Council, said the emergency rules do nothing to help surface landowners and also called for Congress to eliminate fracking's injection permit exemption and several other federal environmental waivers passed as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
"These changes weakened the previous safeguards against water pollution from oil and gas exploration contained in three of the major pieces of environmental law that protect our waters in the United States," Garvin said.
Monday's hearing also included appearances by all three of West Virginia's House members, and testimony from industry officials who touted the potential for thousands of new jobs and a major boost in domestic energy production.
"West Virginia is in a unique position of strength with this resources," said Scott Rotruck, vice president of Chesapeake Energy.
In response to a question from Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., Rotruck ranked the urgency for new state legislation on Marcellus drilling at 2 1/2 on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most urgent. Kevin West, managing director of EQT Corp., ranked the urgency at a 4, but not until the end of the 2012 regular session.
@tag:Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.