West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed a landmark Marcellus Shale regulatory reform bill — also known as the Natural Gas Horizontal Wells Control Act — into law on Thursday.

“This is a milestone piece of legislation and a significant achievement in our state’s history,” Tomblin said. “It provides reasonable regulations to protect the environment and opens the door to new job opportunities for the citizens of our state.”

Members of both houses of the West Virginia legislature threw overwhelming support behind the measure on Dec. 14. HB 401 passed the House of Delegates by a 92-5 vote before advancing to the Senate, where it passed 33-0 (see Shale Daily, Dec. 15).

Under HB 401, natural gas operators will pay a $10,000 permitting fee for the first well drilled on a pad, and $5,000 for each additional well. Tomblin said the fees would generate $2.4 million annually for the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to use for hiring additional field inspectors and permit reviewers.

The governor had appointed 10 lawmakers in June to the Joint Select Committee on Marcellus Shale, which tried to reach a consensus on several key regulatory issues (see Shale Daily, June 17). Most of the panel’s suggestions were incorporated into HB 401.

“I again extend my sincere appreciation to the members of the legislature for working long and hard to develop and pass this historic legislation for the future of West Virginia,” Tomblin said.

Although HB 401 is now law, advocates for the shale gas industry, surface owners’ rights and the environment are unhappy with the measure as a whole and want lawmakers to amend it (see Shale Daily, Dec. 16). The legislature will convene Jan. 11 for its next 60-day session.

Tomblin’s office said the governor will hold a ceremonial bill signing in the near future.