Senate OKs bill on shale

Measure Establishes WVU Research Center

Morgantown Dominion Post
3 April 2013
By David Beard

CHARLESTON — The Legislature is taking another crack at creating a WVU Shale Research Center.

SB 98 passed muster in the Senate on Tuesday, heading to the House after a 33-0 vote.

Last year, an effort to create a center tanked on the last day of the session, as the House refused to concur with Senate changes that expanded the bill’s scope.

What passed out of the Senate on Tuesday is nearly identical to what the Senate did last year, minus one short, but problematic, section.

SB 98 creates the WVU Shale Research, Education Policy and Economic Development Center. The original version of the bill — essentially the same as 2012’s HB 4511 — simply created the center. It’s two pages long.

But the Senate Education Committee revamped SB 98 to match last year’s SB 522, which the Senate subsequently amended wholesale into HB 4511 — leading to the ultimate doom of 4511 on the last day. The new SB 98 is five pages long.

The expanded SB 98 starts with a section, added by the committee, defining research centers in general. It requires the governing board of any state college or university wishing to launch a research center to submit a proposal to the Higher Education Policy Commission spelling out the center’s name, governance, goals, staff and resources.

A problematic provision from SB 522 is gone from SB 98: A requirement that the HEPC approve all proposals for centers. SB 98 merely requires the colleges and universities to submit proposals.

The third page of the bill returns to the original version. It observes that new horizontal drilling and hydrofracking technology provides the state with resources that “have the potential to generate jobs, stimulate economic activity, ensure energy security reduce carbon and other emissions and provide significant revenues to the state. … Creation of this entity will allow West Virginia to focus on the prudent development and regulation of natural gas and liquid hydrocarbon from the shale resources in the state and throughout the world.”

It spells out seven purposes of the WVU center to reflect those observations, then lists eight potential areas of research including efficient extraction technologies, environmental and economic impacts, policy analysis, workforce development and best business practices.

The center will have the opportunity to work with industry and government bodies around the world, and with other state universities. Funding can come from the Legislature — though no specific amount is established or required — and from private industry, federal and international sources.

The bill’s fiscal note says it carries no cost to the state. For WVU, it estimates the cost at $250,000 per year for four years, consisting of faculty and staff costs of $200,000 plus $50,000 for expenses.

Education Committee Chairman Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, said he hasn’t had any talks with House members and doesn’t know how the bill will be received — though WVU supports it and the HEPC approval requirement is gone.

House Majority Leader Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, said the bill will go through the committee process and be reviewed.

WVU spokesman John Bolt said WVU is aware of the bill but has no comment at this time.