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Candidates Debate Gas Drilling in W.Va.

Tomblin says two ethane crackers are a possibility

September 8, 2011
By CASEY JUNKINS Staff Writer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING - Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is ready to call the state Legislature into special session to address natural gas drilling regulations - and is "somewhat confident" the state will attract two ethane crackers.

Republican Bill Maloney believes an intermediate court system between the local circuit courts and the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals would help attract an ethane cracker and other businesses to the state, while Mountain Party candidate Bob Henry Baber wants to raise the state's severance tax for coal and natural gas production from 5 percent to 7 percent to help the state raise revenue.

The three candidates debated these and other matters during a Wednesday forum, co-sponsored by The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register and West Virginia Northern Community College, that drew more than 120 people.

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A special election for West Virginia governor is set for Oct. 4, with early voting taking place Sept. 21 through Oct. 1.

Tomblin, a Democrat, emphasized the regulations he ordered the state Department of Environmental Protection to impose on Marcellus Shale drillers will expire in 15 months, noting they are a "start to protect our environment." He said as soon as legislators can reach an agreement on permanent regulations, he will call them back into session to vote on the matters.

Maloney said he supports regulations to protect groundwater, but the industry "needs to know what the ground rules are" in preparing to invest in West Virginia.

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Photos by Scott McCloskey
West Virginia gubernatorial candidates, from left, Bob Henry Baber, acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Bill Maloney speak with J. Michael Myer, executive editor of The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, prior to a Wednesday night debate in Wheeling.

Baber called the $650 permit fee that drillers are now required to pay for horizontal Marcellus wells "ridiculous," noting the current fees and requirements placed on gas companies would be akin to the state granting a permit for a "general store" when the drillers are building "Super Wal-Marts."

"Our state should be one of the wealthiest states in the nation. We have given far too much away," he said in claiming his support for raising severance taxes and permit fees.

Tomblin believes West Virginia is the most appropriate place for the ethane crackers - which could be built at Bayer Corp. sites in New Martinsville or Institute - because "this is where the resource is."

In response to a question regarding whether President Obama has declared a "war on coal," Maloney said the evidence is clear to him.

"We didn't vote for (Obama), and he is out to get us," Maloney said.

Tomblin said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is "overstepping their bounds" in targeting West Virginia's coal mines. He said that agency should not have been allowed to revoke the permit for the Spruce Mine in Logan County as it did early this year.

Baber, emphasizing he does not oppose gas and coal extraction, said, "Mountaintop removal is vile - it's wrong."

As for legalized gambling, Baber simply said he really does not care for the concept at all.

Tomblin and Maloney agreed the state should wean itself off of relying on tax dollars from gambling because of ever-increasing competition from the neighboring states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland. Maloney, however, took the chance to declare the state should eliminate the "subsidies to greyhound breeders."

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