Recently approved new rules governing activity in West Virginia’s portion of the Marcellus shale have become too pro-industry, environmental groups charge.
During a special session, the Senate Judiciary and Finance committees endorsed a version of the bill that had been reworked by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, which has been widely panned by environmental groups and surface owner organizations alike.
Gary Zuckett, the director of the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, was outspoken in his criticism of the bill.
"What we now have is a Christmas tree for the drillers – it's an industry bill," he told the Charleston Gazette. "The whole process was hijacked in closed-door meetings after so much work was done all summer."
Additionally, the environmental groups are upset that the earlier version of the bill, which had been worked on for years with a special joint-chamber committee, was scrapped for what they feel is more industry-focused legislation.
"The select committee's bill was already a compromise," Jim Sconyers with the West Virginia Sierra Club told the news source. "Now it is unacceptable. Any bill we would support must contain at least the protections found in the compromise bill."
Specifically, Tomblin's version of the bill removed authority from the Office of Air Quality by not allowing it to regulate air quality at the sites. The governor's version also allows operators to drill without notifying adjacent property owners.
Tomblin's reworking also changed some required distances. Under the new version, wells need to be drilled 100 feet from wetlands but the prior version set the distance at 200 feet. In addition, the new bill will allow drilling activity to take place within 625 feet of homes, a distant that some opponents say is insufficient, reports The Associated Press.
The updated version kept the original's increase in permit fees. According to the AP, drillers now only pay $400 but will have to pay $10,000 for the initial well and $5,000 for each subsequent well under the new rules.
This is part of the reason those on the industry side are not thrilled by the new version, although many of them have endorsed the updated version of the legislation.
"Everything about this bill either adds expense or time or delays to our operations and our organizations, which we currently feel are adequately regulated," Mike McCown, vice president of Gastar Exploration (GST:NYSE Amex), told the AP. "But it's important to have some clarity moving forward."