CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Legislators are in town this week discussing a possible bill to regulate drilling for gas in the Marcellus shale. It is time to get some meaningful regulation in effect.
West Virginia is enjoying some very rosy projections about the fortunes and jobs to come from fracturing rock deep below the surface of the earth and collecting the vast pockets of gas. More cautious estimates predict only modest job opportunities, and those not necessarily in West Virginia.
Whether Marcellus Shale drilling turns out to be a bonanza for many or just a few, West Virginians should make sure they protect themselves, their land, air and water.
At the very least, the state needs a realistic number of inspectors to visit drill sites and evaluate permit applications. The state currently has 15 inspectors, not nearly enough when the state issues more than 200 Marcellus well permits a year. A good bill would set permitting fee applications high enough to fund the needed professionals, such as $10,000 per drill hole. Even the concession industry gained -- $10,000 for the first hole and $5,000 for each subsequent hole on a pad -- is better than what the state has now.
A good bill would prohibit drillers from boring too close to existing homes, wrecking their quality and value with noise and traffic. A good bill would protect state taxpayers who spend millions each year on road maintenance and who do not want to see the Division of Highways' work pulverized within months by overweight trucks serving these wells. A good bill would require drillers to report to the state how many West Virginians are employed by the operations.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has said he's willing to convene the Legislature for a special session if lawmakers develop a bill that could pass both houses. There was some doubt over the weekend whether that could happen if a special House-Senate committee doesn't settle all its disagreements about the bill by Wednesday.
Nonsense. We hope legislators do recommend a bill to the governor Wednesday, but if they don't, the issue will not disappear on Thursday.
West Virginia has learned this lesson the hard way too many times. Booms come and go. When people are allowed to drill, dig, blast and cut away the state's natural resources with regard for nothing but short-term profit, they wreck the place for generations. West Virginians can have not only jobs and prosperity, but also conservation of their homes, communities and treasured places.
Here is the tough job of those elected to public office. This issue requires leadership from the governor's office and from legislators. No bill ever pleases everyone. But legislative leaders have a duty to offer the governor a worthy bill that will look after the interests of all residents of the Mountain State.