West Virginia legislators went for a gusher and came up with a dry hole this winter, in terms of new regulations for oil and gas drilling. They were cautioned in advance their approach wouldn't work, but chose to ignore the warnings.
Regulations for oil and gas drilling in the Mountain State have not been updated for many years. The current boom in gas drilling, into the Marcellus Shale formation, has made it clear new rules are needed.
Gas industry officials recognize that. Before the annual regular session of the Legislature began in January, they suggested a piecemeal approach to the problem. Rather than a single, omnibus bill, several measures addressing various aspects of drilling ought to be considered, they said.
Lawmakers proceeded with a piece of legislation so massive there was no doubt it would contain provisions unacceptable to what Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin referred to as the many "stakeholders." Predictably, the bill was not approved.
Calls for a special session of the Legislature to deal with the issue have been heard. Wisely, Tomblin is rejecting them. The two sides on the issue are too far apart for there to be any prospect of success in a special session, the governor has said.
Tomblin is absolutely right. New gas and oil regulations will have to wait until the next regular legislative session in 2012.
Between now and then, however, the governor and lawmakers can increase the chance of at least partial success by scrapping the omnibus bill approach.
Separate bills on issues relating to drilling should be prepared - with input from the gas and oil industry, environmentalists, advocates for both mineral and surface rights owners and other stakeholders.
For example, there is no reason an individual bill on drilling companies' responsibilities regarding damage to roads cannot be prepared. And nothing would prevent crafting a separate bill on permit fees.
"Divide and conquer" is good advice in virtually any endeavor. Lawmakers preparing for next winter should heed it.