Drilling Still On Agenda

Special session sought for Marcellus Shale

Wheeling WV  Intelligencer
15 March 2011
By Joselyn King, Political Writer

WHEELING - Legislation to regulate Marcellus Shale could resurface later this year in a special session of the West Virginia Legislature, local lawmakers said.

Northern Panhandle legislators said while there were some important accomplishments made during the recent 90-day regular session that ended Saturday, there were also some disappointments.

The failure to pass the Marcellus Shale bill tops their list of regrets.

Sen. Orphy Klempa, D-Ohio, said a special session to consider Marcellus Shale legislation will take place this year, but he isn't certain when. The date will likely will be affected by West Virginia's 2011 special election for governor, he said.

"We would probably be going with the current legislation but giving the (state Department of Environmental Protection) more money for more inspectors to investigate well sites," he said. "With a special session, though, the governor thing gets in the way.

Everybody is out there campaigning - and I don't blame them."

Klempa said he was largely pleased with the overall outcome of the regular session, considering the political climate.

"For everything that's going on in West Virginia, I'm satisfied," he said. "Every time you bump into someone, there was a candidate for governor. Most are in the Legislature. And it has to be distracting for candidates. Every move they make - every position they take - can help or hinder their candidacy."

Klempa cited among the highlights of the session the passage of a bill requiring insurance providers in West Virginia to provide some coverage for families of children with autism.

Conversely, he was especially discouraged when a bill that would have banned texting while driving wasn't passed into law despite the House and Senate passing differing versions of the legislation.

The House balked at the Senate's version, which included a provision establishing a $15 fine for driving without a seat belt.

Klempa was appointed to a conference committee to reconcile the bills, but the House never appointed conference committee members, he said.

Freshman Delegate Erikka Storch, R-Ohio, pointed out that Marcellus Shale drilling doesn't happen in every county in West Virginia, and it seemingly wasn't as important to legislators representing other areas to pass the regulatory bill.

"It seems like the bill got to be so unfriendly to the gas industry," she said. "There are a lot of factors impacting Marcellus Shale drilling that would be damaging to development, and we need to work on those. But while we are doing that, we also need to work on the issues of water runoff and landowners' rights."

Also attending in his first legislative session was Delegate Ryan Ferns, D-Ohio.

"I wasn't completely satisfied," he acknowledged. "I knew this was going to be an odd year - having a governor's race so many legislators were involved in. There was no way it couldn't affect the Legislature. And most disappointing was that we had no chance to vote on the Marcellus Shale bill."

Ferns continued that he would have liked for a bill establishing an intermediate court of appeals to have been considered by the Legislature.

"I campaigned on the notion of making West Virginia more business friendly," he said. "It was just one of those things we ran out of time on, apparently."

Delegate Tim Ennis, D-Brooke, was pleased the Legislature voted to reduce the state's food tax from 3 percent to 2 percent.

"It was a good session - especially considering the uncertainty with the governor," he said. "People were a little nervous."

Delegate Mike Ferro, meanwhile, was pleased that legislation expanding the definition of school "bullying" to include threats made by electronic transmission was passed into law.

"Bullying has always a problem in the schools, and it will continue to be a problem," said Ferro, D-Marshall. "Now there are just new mechanisms in which to do it."