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House panel spikes bill to regulate fracking

A House committee on Wednesday killed a bill that would have put more regulations in place to protect groundwater during the process of drilling for oil and natural gas.

The committee on Commerce and Labor killed the bill by state Sen. Richard Stuart, R–Stafford, with a vote that fell along party lines. Democrats favored additional regulations by the Department of Environmental Quality, while Republicans maintained there were already enough rules on the books.

“I was just trying to put in a reasonable measure to make sure that, if they’re going to drill, they do it safely,” Stuart said.

He’s referring to drilling that would be done by Shore Exploration and Production Corp. The Texas company has leased more than 84,000 acres in five counties east of Fredericksburg and would use the method of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to release natural gas buried deep beneath the earth.

The process has become controversial nationwide as critics cite the potential for water, air and noise pollution, as well as the industrialization that comes with it.

Stuart said he had spoken with Shore representatives, who could not assure him beyond a shadow of a doubt that an accident couldn’t happen. The area for potential drilling is a tidal basin that sits between two rivers, drains into the Chesapeake Bay and supplies water to more than 900,000 people, according to a U.S. Geological Survey report.

Stuart said he didn’t want to risk doing any damage to the area.

Opponents to his bill included the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, an agency that regulates the drilling industry. DMME already has more stringent requirements in place in the Tidewater area, which includes the region east of Fredericksburg.

Stuart’s proposal was “an ill-conceived bill that never should have been brought up anyway,” said Shore President Stan Sherrill. He said the additional regulations were redundant and would “have completely stopped industry from moving forward.”

He’s said he would like to drill in the region, known as the Taylorsville basin, by the end of this year or mid-2015. Stuart’s bill, which the state Senate approved, would have delayed action until 2016.

Supporters of the bill included King George Supervisor Ruby Brabo and former Stafford Supervisor Susan Stimpson.

Opponents who spoke against the additional regulations included a consumer energy alliance and Caroline County Supervisor Jeff Sili, who said all his constituents favor fracking. Almost half of the acres leased for potential drilling are in Caroline.

Stuart said he will bring the bill back for consideration at next year’s session.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425