As the link between the natural gas drilling boom and West Virginia's future grows ever tighter, Republican Mark Zatezalo believes there's a place in the Legislature for someone with a background in geology - so he decided to make a bid to represent the 1st District in the House of Delegates.
Zatezalo, who has served as chairman of the Weirton Redevelopment Authority for parts of the last 10 years, said this will be his first run for elected office. He'll be challenging incumbent Democrats Randy Swartzmiller, who is entering his 14th year in the House of Delegates, and second-term Delegate Ronnie Jones, who also is a member of Weirton City Council. Both have filed pre-candidacy papers with Secretary of State Natalie Tennant's office.
The 1st District includes all of Hancock County and a small portion of Brooke County.
As a hydrogeologist employed by a Pittsburgh engineering firm, Zatezalo said he is "well-versed" in the study of potential contamination from mining, drilling and other industrial operations, and has spent time dealing with Pennsylvania's regulations concerning the oil and gas industry.
He believes drilling companies in general do their jobs "pretty responsibly," but knows there are plenty of issues for lawmakers to consider.
"There are a wide range of policy decisions that are going to be made and carried out in the Legislature ... and I want to be a part of that discussion," Zatezalo said.
Zatezalo believes it's vital for West Virginia, one of the country's top energy-producing states, to continue pursuing opportunities to keep more of the energy it produces within its borders. That includes Odebrecht's recent announcement of its intent to build an ethane cracker plant near Parkersburg.
"Gov. (Earl Ray) Tomblin has moved that ball forward, and I think that's good, but we need to do more," Zatezalo said. "And the only way we can do that is to educate our people."
Although he acknowledges he's "not an education expert," Zatezalo said he plans to ask a lot of questions to get to the bottom of why other states consistently seem to get more of a return on their education investment in terms of student achievement than West Virginia.
Zatezalo has a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University and a master's from the University of Missouri.
In addition to working for an engineering consulting firm, Zatezalo serves on the board of the Clean Streams Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on dealing with acid mine drainage problems resulting from closed coal mines.
Zatezalo lives in Weirton with his wife, Martha. They have two grown daughters, Jennifer and Danica.