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Local solutions: When state government is slow to react, others are forced to fill the cracks

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Photo courtesy of Ed Wade Jr Photo courtesy of Ed Wade Jr
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In the summer of 2011, a special legislative committee composed of members of the Senate and the House of Delegates debated proposed legislation to regulate drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale region.

Committee members spent months discussing such things as wellpad setbacks, permit fees and job qualifications for inspectors.

Before the committee had had its first meeting, drilling was well underway. And people in the mountainous region of Wetzel County were already doing their own documenting of the impact of drilling on their region. They tracked drilling locations. They photographed traffic accidents involving trucks used by drilling operations. They were in contact with the school board office and the Division of Highways about what could be done to make roads safer.

While the Legislature talked, these people took into their own hands the things they could impact most — getting local solutions to local problems.

It's a fact of life some people have noticed about state government. It doesn't move at the speed of business. 

The gas drilling industry had established itself before the Legislature could get around to noticing what was happening or could decide what was needed to protect the public from problems horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing may cause.

"I'm not one that defaults immediately to ‘government is always the problem,'" said Matt Ballard, president of the Charleston Area Alliance. "But government can work to be more innovative. It's typically reactive, rather than proactive.

"Government doesn't always move at the speed of business."

Cathy Burns, president of the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce, has worked in both government and in the private sector. One thing she has noticed in the difference between the two is the approach to meetings.

"In government, meetings are often viewed as an accomplishment," Burns said. "In the private sector, meetings are the vehicle to achieve an outcome and generally are conducted with purpose and brevity. 

"Long meetings prevent people from the work they need to do."

Ballard said the Legislature is slow by design, and that's good.

"But once the laws are passed, our governments must move at the speed of business towards implementation," he said.

Despite the slow speed in writing regulations for Marcellus Shale drilling, West Virginia did move faster than Pennsylvania, Ballard said.

New York, on the other hand, has taken another tactic popular in the West Virginia Legislature — the act of not acting. It has yet to lift a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing even as West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas and other states move ahead and develop their shale gas fields.