WHEELING - Considering the jobs and revenue that Marcellus Shale activity can bring to West Virginia's Northern Panhandle, state Sen. Orphy Klempa, D-Ohio, is glad to work with the natural gas drillers.
He just wants to make sure the Mountain State maintains its natural beauty throughout the drilling activity.
"There are a lot of good players out there, but it only takes one or two bad players to make us all look bad," Klempa said. "We have to make sure we are going to protect our air, our water and our roads."
Now Klempa will join four other senators as part of a committee - authorized by the state Legislature's Joint Committee of Government and Finance - to study natural gas drilling regulations.
Senators "passed a piece of legislation in the regular session, but the House didn't. I think the bill that we passed is a good place for us to start in considering the regulations," Klempa said.
The bill the Senate passed this year would have increased the fee for drilling a horizontal Marcellus gas well from $600 to $5,000. The bill would not have permitted forced pooling, which would have allowed gas drillers to use land they have not leased to form a well pad.
Acting Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, appointed Klempa to serve on the new committee, along with fellow senators Douglas Facemire, D-Braxton, Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson, and Karen Facemyer, R-Jackson.
Kessler - whose own constituents in Marshall, Wetzel, Tyler, Marion and Monongalia counties are experiencing a flurry of drilling activity - said, "Drilling in the Marcellus Shale natural gas field is an extremely important issue for West Virginia and its residents. I am confident the select committee will give full consideration to this issue and effectively move it forward."
"I think everybody on this committee will bring valuable knowledge and experience," Klempa added, saying he appreciated Kessler appointing him to serve.
Klempa said he expects the group to move quickly on this issue, noting he would expect some legislation to pass during a special legislative session some time this year.
"This is a huge deal for West Virginia," he added. "We just need to get people to sit down together to focus on it to get a good bill done."
In speaking about the Marcellus drilling legislation, acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin recently said during a visit to Wheeling, "I will call a special session of the Legislature as soon as we can get an agreement reached."
One of Klempa's primary concerns remains his belief that the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection needs more gas inspector positions than the current 17.
Natural gas companies drilled 58 horizontal wells in the state last year, but regulators issued permits for 433 wells in 2010. With land leasing and permitting still taking place, Klempa knows there is going to be even more drilling, which he said would call for more inspectors.