CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Maloney said West Virginia's leaders need to pass new Marcellus shale regulations to protect communities, state roads and the environment and to give legal certainty to the industry.
"We need to come up with the exact rules and do it because there's a lot of investment being held back right now," Maloney said in a Friday telephone interview. He provided his first extensive comments on one of the state's most pressing issues.
Maloney said he supports raising permit fees for Marcellus well sites so the Department of Environmental Protection has enough money to hire the oil and gas inspectors it needs.
He also said the state can do more to make sure communities near gas wells benefit from severance taxes, something he feels has not happened enough in the coalfields.
State lawmakers have tried and failed to come up with regulations for what many expect will be a natural gas boom in West Virginia.
Maloney wasn't too critical of the Legislature, although he said it might have lost an opportunity to pass regulations sooner because of "the inactivity of all parties involved." He said there was a lack of leadership by acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, the Democrat Maloney faces in the Oct. 4 general election.
"I got to give Joe Manchin credit, at least he would lead on something like this," Maloney said.
Tomblin began acting as governor by virtue of being president of the state Senate in mid-November, following former Gov. Manchin's departure for the U.S. Senate.
Maloney said there's already a "great blueprint" for a new law in a recent deal that gas company Northeast Energy struck with the Morgantown Utility Board. City officials were concerned because Northeast's well is near a public water supply. To get gas from the Marcellus, companies use a water-intensive technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," to free gas from shale rocks.
In a three-page memo to assuage the city's worries, Northeast promised to pressure-test wells to prevent blowouts and to take extra steps to prevent spills of frack water, which is laced with chemicals. The company also promised to detail how it disposed of the frack fluid that returns to the surface after it has been shot deep into the earth.
But the City Council remained concerned and - mostly because officials in Charleston had repeatedly failed to act - voted last month to ban fracking in and around Morgantown.
Maloney said the city's total ban was "driving me crazy."
"People are afraid to work with anybody from Morgantown because of that deal," he said.
Maloney earned his fortune in the coal mineshaft drilling business. He also has drilled water wells and invests in oil and gas interests. He said he is not invested in Marcellus shale wells.
"We need to protect property owners, we need to protect residents, we need to protect health and safety, we need to protect communities - but you need to do it in a logical manner," Maloney said.
He said there are valid concerns about dangers to the environment, but "if the well is constructed properly, there's never been a case of contamination."
"The real environmental concern is when you pump in all this frack fluid and they then flow back like two-thirds of that, and when they're flowing back, you've just got to avoid spills and make sure it's contained," Maloney said.
"You've got to have controls in place to make sure that water wasn't dumped in a creek or isn't being taken somewhere it's not supposed to be taken."
He also said any rules should make sure gas rigs or trucks hauling water aren't allowed to tear up state roads without the state being reimbursed. He said there could be some limits on how loud operations can be within earshot of communities.
"You don't want to see roads ruined by all the truck traffic, the dust, the noise," Maloney said.
He said it's probably not wise to burden Marcellus shale regulations with anything about the controversial practice known as "forced pooling," which lets companies extract gas from beneath a large tract of land even if they can't agree to a lease with all of the mineral rights owners.
Wrangling over a forced pooling provision stalled gas regulations earlier this year in the state House of Delegates.