BECKLEY — Editor’s Note: Through May 4, The Register-Herald will publish a daily story featuring in-depth interviews we conducted with candidates seeking the office of governor of West Virginia. Each of the 16 people who filed were issued an invitation to appear before our editorial board, and 14 of those came to Beckley to meet with us and discuss some of the key issues in West Virginia. The stories will appear in the order in which the candidates were interviewed. Today’s story focuses on Mountain candidate Bob Henry Baber, of Glenville.
1 — It certainly appears that Marcellus shale regulation will remain a major topic of interest for the next several years. What are the key features that you see that need to be included in West Virginia law in order to best serve the interests of all the parties involved?
Obviously, I’m for the development of this relatively green energy source. We do have to have regulation, no doubt about that. That’s going to mean we’re going to have to have some fees, the tax. We’re going to have to increase the filing fees. Even the DEP says right now they really don’t have enforcement capabilities for these now about 3,000 new employees that are pretty much gallivanting around the state. It’s really, really important that we protect our water and that we make sure that the environment is protected as this new wave of development takes place.
I do want to say, interestingly enough, I have a farm in Greenbrier County. And I do not own the mineral rights. It’s a broad form deed. I actually brought two of them with me. I’ll leave them with you. These are the deeds to my grandparents’ farm, and they actually outline the rights of the surface owner as opposed to the mineral owner, and/or the gas owner in this case. And really, as I jokingly said, it’s a broad form of deed; all grandpa, all you bought, was the air.
These broad form deeds were revised, you might say outlawed, for strip mining purposes in every state in the union. Kentucky was the last in 1980. But the only thing the landowner is protected from, the private landowner, is from strip mining. They’re not protected from gas interests. And that gives me real pause because, guess what, I got a letter from a gas company saying we want to come in and test on your farm. I’ve got 30 acres in Greenbrier County. I’m surrounded by 300,000 privately held acres in Westvaco, and it kind of makes me wonder why they want to come in on my 30 when there’s 300,000 around me. It also gives me pause for my well, my land, my surface. I’ve only got seven acres that are cleared. The test might not be that big. But if an actual well came in, it could be significant.
This poses a real growth opportunity for West Virginia. But we need to protect the environment. And there’s one thing that I’m going to say, and that is, this can probably open to maybe another conversation a little about mountaintop mining and coal mining. But we need to, with this
Marcellus development, create what I’m calling the energy dividend. We need to rake some money off the top of gas and coal. I’m talking new taxes, or severance taxes, to create the new green economy. We are an energy-producing state. That’s kind of insulated us a little bit. You know, everything is happening in the country. Of course, we didn’t have a big bubble to pop. But we’ve got to bridge the future to the new energy future. We have that opportunity, being an energy-producing state now, with fossil fuels, to move into the future, to plan the West Virginia of 50 years from now. And I don’t really see anyone looking at that.