By EARL RAY TOMBLIN

CHARLESTON -- In recent years, West Virginia has had the foresight and discipline to position itself well and embrace the opportunities that come with good management.

In the past three years, our commitment to fiscal responsibility led three credit rating agencies to upgrade our bond ratings resulting in an immediate savings for taxpayers in terms of publically financed projects like the construction of new schools.

In addition, just this year I led the charge to lower the state's food tax for our families.

One new opportunity on the horizon is one that I believe we must proactively embrace for the benefit of our citizens, protection of our environment and to invigorate the private sector. The natural gas industry has long been a source of good-paying jobs and fuel for West Virginians and their homes.

The discovery of vast amounts of natural gas embedded in Marcellus Shale presents us with a tremendous opportunity. In the latter part of 2007, West Virginia natural gas producers began combining horizontal drilling techniques with hydraulic fracturing to recover large volumes of gas from the Marcellus Shale.

Since January 2008, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has issued close to 900 permits for horizontal drilling into the Marcellus Shale. Those numbers are certain to increase.

The potential of the Marcellus Shale as an abundant energy source for our state and the nation, while creating thousands of good-paying jobs and revitalizing our chemical and manufacturing industries is exciting. Still, we must be diligent in our efforts to ensure that processes associated with the Marcellus and other shale gas production are responsibly regulated to protect all West Virginians.

As the discussions and practices of Marcellus Shale development have expanded, I have heard from many constituents. I truly appreciate the time you took to voice your varying concerns about such development and its impact. I have listened and I've taken the crucial action needed to start West Virginia on the right path toward regulatory certainty in Marcellus development, while protecting our citizens, and the environment.

Earlier this month, joined by state legislators and leaders of our state's natural resources, I announced the filing of my executive order that directs the state DEP to promulgate additional environmental regulations governing Marcellus drilling activities.

Specifically, my executive order requires companies to provide a list of additives they use in frack fluids; post signs at water withdrawal location points on streams; and take steps to protect in-stream flow during periods of withdrawal. Marcellus drilling applicants who want to establish a well-site within the boundaries of a municipality must file a public notice of intent to drill.

This order is an important first step in providing responsible regulatory oversight. But, there is much work to be done by legislators serving on a Legislative select committee, which is developing a reasonable and comprehensive proposal related to Marcellus development.

With input from all concerned, together, I am confident we will make the most of this opportunity.

Tomblin is acting governor of West Virginia.

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