While West Virginia is in a financial crisis with a big budget shortfall and looking to increase revenues wherever it can, the state sits on the potential and expected answer, Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said.
“We’re sitting on the Saudi Arabia of natural gas,” Carmichael said, referencing the vast amounts of natural resources beneath the Mountain State’s surface. “We have a moral imperative to provide low-cost energy, not only to West Virginia, but to the world.
“This is a monumental opportunity,” he added. “We need to capitalize on these resources.”
Carmichael and two other members of the Legislature joined members of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia in a news conference Feb. 13 at the West Virginia Capitol Complex.
Carmichael suggested a revision of the Aboveground Storage Tank Act, making it “more palatable.”
Scott Freshwater, president of IOGAWV, said he hopes to offer ideas and solutions, creating a path forward both for the industry and the state. There’s a way to do it and still protect the environment, he said.
“These are tough times in our industry,” Freshwater said. “We have a combination of over-regulation and low pricing. But we are working diligently.”
Freshwater said he believes several bills will be introduced that could “help lead the state forward.”
“We want every opportunity to succeed,” he said. “When we succeed, we feel like the state succeeds.”
The legislators spoke about issues related to the oil and natural gas industry.
House Finance Committee Chairman Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, stressed the importance of the oil and natural gas industry to West Virginia’s economy, with an emphasis on creating downstream jobs in the state.
“There are about six different pipelines in progress,” Nelson said. “That means more than $15 billion in investments — that also means job and economic development.”
Carmichael promised the current legislative session will be focused on the oil and gas industry.
House Judiciary Committee Vice Chairman Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, said the current Aboveground Storage Tank Act in West Virginia places a regulatory burden on West Virginia businesses.
He intends to introduce a bill next week, “that is intended to put DEP’s enforcement resources where the actual problem is,” he said.
“At the moment, we have DEP inspecting tanks which are miles away from a public water supply,” Hanshaw added. “They contain nothing but water and a brine solution. Those are not the things that the people that wrote the Aboveground Storage Tank Act intended the DEP to be out there doing. They intended the DEP to be looking at tanks that actually pose a threat to public health and safety and the public water supply.”
Addressing the issues facing the industry is of great importance for the entire state, Hanshaw added.
“Every tax dollar and every job matters — especially in this session,” he said.
Hanshaw said the current Aboveground Storage Tank Act, which was created after the 2014 chemical spill and subsequent water contamination that left more than 300,000 West Virginians in parts of nine counties unable to use their tap water for several days, not only stalls growth in the oil and gas industry, but also impedes the regulatory agency as well.
There’s a way to make regulations rational and reasonable, Hanshaw said.
“The DEP is not currently able to do what was intended — my bill will allow them to focus on the tanks that matter,” he added.
Carmichael remains confident of the ability for natural resources to play a role in West Virginia’s resurgence.
“There’s no reason why this industry can’t be a catalyst to reenergize West Virginia’s economy,” Carmichael said. “This is our time to make reasonable accommodations for the industry.”