Marcellus Sale Bill Likely Delayed Until Next Year

Emergency rules in works; co-chairman says committee should take its time forming regulations

Charleston Daily Mail
18 August 2011
by Ry Rivard, Daily Mail Capitol Reporter

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - State lawmakers appear unlikely to draft statewide regulations this year concerning natural gas extraction from the Marcellus shale.

Sen. Doug Facemire, D-Braxton, said Wednesday that emergency rules ordered last month by acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin - which are not yet in effect - will be enough to tide the state over until lawmakers meet early next year.

Facemire is the co-chairman of a joint House-Senate committee tasked with drafting a bill to regulate the development of the state's Marcellus shale gas field, which is expected to be the source of an economic boom.

But Facemire said he's now in no hurry because of the emergency rules Tomblin asked the Department of Environmental Protection to draft. The DEP has yet to finalize those rules.

"I don't want to hurry it up," Facemire said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "I want to try to take our time, and I want to come out of here with a bill that satisfies the needs of the surface owners while respecting the environment and that allows our people to go to work."

That's why the Senate isn't going to meet with House lawmakers this week about shale regulations, even though the Legislature is in town for a redistricting session beginning today. A redistricting plan the House of Delegates passed earlier this month was fatally flawed and needs to be redone.

Many lawmakers will have little to do while they are in town. The session is expected to last at least three days. The Senate expects to come in Thursday but then recess until Sunday, Facemire said.

Delegate Tim Manchin, D-Marion, who co-chairs the committee with Facemire, said he would like to use the special session this week to get some work done. Manchin said he proposed meetings at 5 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. Saturday but was rebuffed by Facemire.

"I've asked him to reconsider," Manchin said in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon.

"My members and the public want to see us do something, and they don't want us to wait until next session."

Facemire said he wouldn't be in town then.

"The thing of it is, we're not going to be there. The Senate is going to convene Thursday at noon; then we're going to recess until Sunday," Facemire said. "I'm not even coming down until Sunday. I've got to work. I've got a business to run."

New, water-intensive technology has made it possible to extract gas from the Marcellus shale rock formation deep beneath the ground. Of particular concern to environmentalists and some property owners is a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," which uses large amounts of water mixed with chemicals to release gas from the rock formation.