West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin appears poised to call a special session of the legislature in mid-December to discuss, and hopefully pass, a compromise Marcellus Shale regulatory reform bill.

Meanwhile hundreds of citizens have signed an online petition urging Tomblin to call the special session for the proposed bill, which was formulated after months of discussion by the Joint Select Committee on Marcellus Shale (JSCMS) and has been dubbed the Marcellus Draft Bill (MDB).

Kimberly Osborne, Tomblin’s press secretary, told NGI that the governor hoped to call a special session during the interim committee meetings scheduled for Dec. 12-14.

“The governor hasn’t necessarily recommended tweaks [to the MDB], but wells are an area of concern,” Osborne said. “Some of the legislation is very specific. With all the technology out there and as quickly as it changes, there is concern as to whether or not those details would be better left with the Department of Environmental Protection [DEP]. That way any changes that need to be made to wells can be made quickly, rather than set in law. We don’t want the law to become outdated.”

The JSCMS used a failed bill called the Natural Gas Horizontal Well Control Act, also known as SB 424, as the foundation for the MDB (see NGI, Aug. 15).

Del. Tim Manchin (D-Marion), one of the co-chairs of the JSCMS, told NGI that the 10 members of the bipartisan committee negotiated changes to SB 424 to try and build consensus for what would eventually become the MDB. He said he was concerned that any proposed changes by Tomblin could make the bill’s passage more difficult.

“Sometimes folks on the committee would agree with one change if there was another change made somewhere else,” Manchin said. “But [if Tomblin] changes those things then he may lose the benefit of what [committee members] saw in the bill and that can destroy support for it. There is a delicate balance.”

The public has also started calling for a special session. Candace Jordan, a member of the environmental group West Virginians for a Moratorium on Marcellus, started on online petition with the website change.org. On Friday, 343 people had signed the petition, which calls on the legislature to pass the MDB. The West Virginia legislature convenes for its next 60-day session on Jan. 11.

The shale gas industry is believed to be against several aspects of the MDB, but is particularly incensed by an amendment calling for operators to pay a $10,000 permitting fee for the first well drilled on a pad, and $5,000 for each additional well (see NGI, Nov. 28; Sept. 19). The DEP has also proposed increasing horizontal drilling fees to $10,000 — up from the current $650 paid by all drillers — to fund additional inspectors (see NGI, Feb. 14).

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