“Natural gas is a transition fuel,” said Don Garvin, the legislative coordinator for the West Virginia Environmental Council. “It will transition us away from coal and help in our battle against climate change.”
Garvin’s point of view won’t score him any points with the state’s coal industry or some folks in the natural gas industry, who view him with some skepticism. Privately, it is said acidly by some that Garvin “found religion” after exiting the business.
From 1982 to 1998, Garvin was vice president and field manager of Braxton Oil and Gas Corp., a family-owned independent production company with offices in Buckhannon. At one time, it owned and operated more than 200 wells in the state.
After his father elected to sell the company, Garvin said he decided to do something different with his life. He had been active as a volunteer with groups like Trout Unlimited and later went to work for the council as a paid staffer.
He insisted that he has generally tried to be supportive of the oil and gas industry, albeit one that should be closely regulated by a well-funded state bureaucracy. On that score, he insists West Virginia has a long way to go.
While some groups like the Sierra Club want a moratorium on new oil and gas wells in West Virginia, Garvin said most environmentalists in the state “know that stopping oil and gas drilling in West Virginia is a non-starter.”
“You may get some municipalities or counties to impose some kind of moratorium or a ban, but a statewide ban? No, that would have to be imposed by a governor. Good luck with that!” he said.
He noted that the sitting governor, Earl Ray Tomblin, has been a leader among the state’s politicians in cheering the development the state’s shale gas resources.
Garvin said fighting for strong regulations that are rigorously enforced “is the most sensible approach for environmentalists to take right now.”
“I have always felt that natural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel, no matter how some of these guys in academia now are trying to paint it,” he said. “Methane is only a problem if you let it leak and I’ve always felt that (controlling leaks) was manageable.”
Besides, he said methane that escapes from wells or pipelines “is a waste of resources and potential revenue.” For those reasons alone, he said, companies should try to capture the fugitive emissions.
Garvin wears another hat: he is West Virginia’s environmental representative to the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations (STRONGER), a non-profit corporation comprised of stakeholders representing states, industry and public interest groups. Stronger assists states in improving their oil and gas environmental regulatory programs.
In October, he said STRONGER’s board voted to conduct a survey of state air quality programs and make suggestions on how to improve them. It may take at least a year for the group to make any recommendations.
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