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FRACKING: SHORE AIMS TO FLIP GAS DRILLING LEASES

Shore Exploration and Production CEO Ed DeJarnette answers question regarding the process of fracking at a town hall meeting held by Ruby Brabo at the University of Mary Washington's Dahlgren campus on Monday, April 14, 2014. (PETER CIHELKA / THE FREE LANCE-STAR)

Shore Exploration and Production CEO Ed DeJarnette answers question regarding the process of fracking at a town hall meeting held by Ruby Brabo at the University of Mary Washington’s Dahlgren campus on Monday, April 14, 2014. (PETER CIHELKA / THE FREE LANCE-STAR)

RELATED: Special report: ‘Almost heaven’ or fracking hell?

Representatives from the Texas company that wants to drill for natural gas in the region gave their first formal presentation, then fielded questions from residents—and were reminded several times to stop changing the subject.

Officials from Shore Exploration and Production Corp., which eventually plans to move its headquarters to Bowling Green, attended King George County Supervisor Ruby Brabo’s town hall meeting Monday night in Dahlgren.

Ken Snow, chief landman, and Edmund DeJarnette Jr., chairman of the board, spoke before a group that included almost 100 people.

During the question-and-answer period, people asked Shore about the makeup of its company, what it plans to do with leases it has acquired and what assurances it could give the community about the safety of its operations.

Several times, Brabo asked Snow and DeJarnette to answer the questions at hand so that others who had questions would get the chance to voice them.

Repeatedly, Snow and DeJarnette diverted the topic to the average salary in the gas industry ($107,000), the benefits of drilling that Snow saw as a young man growing up in Midland, Texas, or what’s being done in China and Africa.

Resident Steve Durnford tried to keep the Shore representatives on task to answer his question: Will Shore be responsible for the damage if—“God forbid”—anything should happen during drilling?

“It depends on if Shore stays in the play,” DeJarnette answered. “It won’t if a company buys 100 percent” of the leases.

The vagueness bothered John Perkins, a King George resident who assured the Shore officials that the crowd wasn’t “all ganging up on you.”

“When we’re trying to find answers, we’re not getting any,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like anybody is really forthcoming or saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to be responsible for what’s happening.’ You’re really not giving us many guarantees, not any.”

SELLING THE LEASES

Shore has leased more than 84,000 acres east and south of Fredericksburg in what’s known as the Taylorsville basin. In previous interviews, officials have said they’d like to start drilling for natural gas this year or by mid-2015.

Snow told the crowd that the Taylorsville basin was formed when continents pulled apart in the Triassic era. It is an entirely different formation than the Marcellus Shale, a massive area under the surface of much of Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York.

The Marcellus was formed on a prehistoric ocean floor. The Taylorsville was once a freshwater basin.

“It’s a different thing geologically” than the Marcellus Shale, Snow said, and lends itself to different technology.

This led to a discussion on Shore’s plan to use nitrogen instead of water to do fracturing, or fracking. The process injects high volumes of water or chemicals and sand underground to release trapped gas.

Snow and DeJarnette both stressed that Shore prefers nitrogen fracking or some other type of gas fracking over that done with water.

People are afraid of contamination from hydraulic fracking, as well as the damage done by convoys of trucks bringing in water, the Shore men said. They said that using nitrogen fracking eliminates the issue of hauling water, but truck convoys would still bring in drilling equipment, generators and motors and the nitrogen itself.

“Everybody clear about that? No water fracking,” DeJarnette said. “If you’ve got a complaint about gas fracking, please raise it.”

But later in the meeting, DeJarnette acknowledged that Shore may not have the final say-so in determining what process is used. The company is small—only five people on its board of directors—and it doesn’t produce an annual report or have a website.

Shore is looking for a larger company to buy the leases and take over drilling operations, DeJarnette said.

Several residents pressed the board chairman on this point, asking if he could give any guarantee that nitrogen fracking would be used.

“All I can say is, if I have anything to do with it, I’ll use gas fracking,” DeJarnette said.

But in the next breath, the 76-year-old said his involvement with drilling would be limited. He has been quite ill, according to Stan Sherrill, the company president.

On Monday night, DeJarnette said that he’s “five months into a six- to eight-month life expectancy.” He said he wouldn’t be around to see what happens, but hoped Shore would.

There are no guarantees of what Shore or another company may find when it starts drilling, but DeJarnette said he expects active drilling in the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula to go on for 50 years.

A ‘BRIGHT SPOT’ FOR JOBS

DeJarnette said his company hadn’t found an operator to buy leases and do drilling, but is looking for one. Whatever company invests in the region would have to do some public relations work, DeJarnette said, to address the opposition out there.

He blamed the situation on environmentalists, saying they were passing along false reports about impacts from the process and the danger of water contamination.

He said no one was talking about the jobs the drilling would bring to the region, much less the financial gain to each of the five counties where leases have been signed.

Those counties are Caroline, Essex, King George, King and Queen, and Westmoreland.

DeJarnette said the gas and oil industry is the “one true bright spot” in terms of more jobs generated nationwide, and that residents with leased land, as well as those without it, would benefit from the severance taxes the counties would receive.

Perkins, the resident, told DeJarnette that people wanted reassurances that whatever company might drill in the Taylorsville basin would do it safely.

“Once you’re here, you’re here,” Perkins said.

DeJarnette and Snow reminded the audience that the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy issues one permit at a time. Each application for each well has to be approved on its own merit.

The Shore men reminded the crowd they have not filed the first piece of paperwork.

DeJarnette said his company wants to follow environmentally safe methods so it would be able to continue working in the region.

“If you mess up a single permit, you won’t get another one,” he said.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

 

Shore Exploration and Production Chairman Edmund DeJarnette Jr. tries to evade a video camera operated by  Mary Trout of King George at a town-hall session on fracking. Residents pressed DeJarnette to provide answers to their questions about the company’s plans. (PETER CIHELKA / THE FREE LANCE-STAR)

Shore Exploration and Production Chairman Edmund DeJarnette Jr. tries to evade a video camera operated by Mary Trout of King George at a town-hall session on fracking. Residents pressed DeJarnette to provide answers to their questions about the company’s plans. (PETER CIHELKA / THE FREE LANCE-STAR)

MISTRUST IS ‘THICK AND MUTUAL’

One of the first questions for Shore Exploration and Production Corp. came from Mary Trout, who has become a fixture at King George meetings with her tripod and video camera.

She records sessions and posts them on YouTube. She’s also been critical of supervisors over email issues and being open with residents about their concerns.

Edmund DeJarnette Jr. couldn’t hear the question she asked, so he walked from the front of the room to the side, where she stood with her camera. She asked the question and tried to back away from him in order to record his answer.

He stepped forward with each step she took back. She said she was trying to get his comments on tape, and he said he’d rather not be on YouTube.

“If you don’t mind, Ms. Trout, I’ve dealt with you before,” he said, pausing, “and I don’t trust you.”

“I don’t trust you, either,” Trout responded.

“I understand,” he said. “The mistrust is thick and mutual.”

Supervisor Ruby Brabo, who conducted the meeting, reminded both to be respectful.

—Cathy Dyson

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