• Will local residents really share in the promised bounty? At that same hearing in Fairmont, Steve White, director of the Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation, said too many local workers and companies don't get a shot at the new business. Those jobs and contracts are filled out-of-state.
Meanwhile, lawmakers seem happy to pass tax credit bills without knowing what they will cost in lost revenue in the future. Drillers managed to make sure West Virginia's law does not require the industry to show the state whether West Virginians are getting hired.
Of course, none of these issues even touches the larger question -- is natural gas really a bridge to future, cleaner alternatives? Or is it a distraction that will keep people on the path to catastrophic climate change?
Also, for some time, climate scientists have warned that global warming must be contained to no more than 2 degrees Celsius to avoid a tipping point that would bring widespread desertification and rising sea levels. The International Energy Agency recently concluded that relying more on natural gas for electricity will lead to a temperature increase of 3.5 degrees. Under current conditions, cheap natural gas will displace coal, which has higher emissions. But it will also displace nuclear and other power sources that have lower emissions.
"Fugitive methane" escaping into the sky from wells is a potent greenhouse gas to worsen global warming.
Even if West Virginia leaders concern themselves only with the short-term welfare of state residents, the Marcellus Shale boom clearly presents immediate public problems that have not been adequately evaluated and resolved.
Last year, a legislative committee did what it was supposed to do. Members of the Legislature and the public spent months crafting legislation that tried to accommodate everyone affected by this activity. In December, Gov. Tomblin weakened that bill and offered a version more favorable to industry. The Legislature passed it during a special session.
More safeguards are needed. State leaders cannot dust their hands, as if the job is done and walk away.Everybody wants a boom. No one is happier at the prospect of more people with jobs and income than we are. But it won't be prosperity if it comes at the expense of health, safety and water.