Acting West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on Wednesday night said he would continue to fight for the state’s huge coal industry, but he also urged state residents to embrace the opportunities that would come from natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale.

Tomblin, formerly president of the West Virginia Senate, assumed the duties of governor when former Gov. Joe Manchin resigned following his successful run for a U.S. Senate seat. The next gubernatorial election is scheduled for November.

Creating new opportunities for industry and jobs will be a major focus, said Tomblin in his state of the state address. Coal continues to be a key to the state’s prosperity, but he said the Marcellus Shale’s gas resource potential cannot be ignored.

“West Virginia’s economic future lies not only in its continued use of coal as a resource,” he said. “Lying just a mile below the surface of much of our State is a rock formation called the Marcellus Shale. This formation is rich in natural gas and new technology and techniques have made access possible for the oil and gas industry.

“The development of the Marcellus Shale formation for natural gas production is an economic development opportunity for the state, and we need to embrace it. Billions of dollars of private capital have already been invested in this activity and with it has come many jobs.

“For example, [Wednesday] Dominion announced its intention to build a natural gas processing facility in Natrium, West Virginia. This project will allow for significant development opportunities in West Virginia. And it is not only about the production of natural gas. The development of the Marcellus Shale has the potential to restart the manufacturing industry in West Virginia. It is an opportunity that we simply cannot let go by.”

The “appropriate use of natural resources can serve as a strong foundation for West Virginia’s economic future,” said Tomblin. “We all know that coal keeps the lights on. But we cannot forget — or let others ignore — that it is vital to the economic and national security of our country to utilize West Virginia’s natural resources.”

In his state of the state address, Tomblin did not mention a proposal before the legislature advocated by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to increase fees and regulations on the gas industry. The DEP helped to draft the proposal, which could hike drilling and license fees by thousands of dollars (see Shale Daily, Jan. 12). The state’s joint House-Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to take up the legislation during the 60-day regular legislative session, which began Wednesday.