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Advisory panel on fracking calls for full disclosure on chemicals

RICHMOND—Several members of a new advisory panel, including King George County’s attorney, want companies to disclose every chemical they plan to use when drilling for natural gas.

And they want the information made available before the process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, begins, not after the work is done.

Currently, operators who drill for oil or natural gas in southwest Virginia get permits from the state after they submit various information, including where, when and how deep they plan to drill.

But only after they’ve finished the drilling process do they tell the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy—in a “completion report”—what chemicals they used.

And if they don’t want competitors to know the contents of their chemical cocktail, they can claim them as “trade secrets” and not disclose them at all, panel members explained.

“That’s where the gray area is. We’re not sure what’s being utilized and what’s not being utilized,” said Rick Cooper, who directs the agency’s division of gas and oil, which oversees drilling in Virginia.

The lack of details didn’t sit well with some members of the newly formed group, which met for the first time on Wednesday.

The public desire for disclosure was one reason the panel was put together in the first place.

DMME asked for input in late fall on its procedures related to gas and oil drilling and received more than 200 comments.

“The overwhelming majority, if not absolute complete majority” wanted drilling companies to disclose the chemicals used, said DMME Program Support Manager Michael Skiffington, who moderated the meeting.

Eric Gregory, King George County’s attorney, explained the quandary local governments face as they consider potential impacts of drilling.

King George is one of five counties in the Taylorsville basin, east and south of Fredericksburg, where a Dallas company wants to drill for natural gas. Shore Exploration and Production Corp. has leased more than 84,000 acres for possible drilling in King George, Caroline, Essex, King and Queen and Westmoreland counties.

Officials in those counties are looking at their zoning and land-use regulations and measuring the impact the industry and its infrastructure might have on their resources, as well as their landscapes.

Emergency service workers, in particular, need to know what chemicals companies are using, in case of an accident, Gregory said.

“This has been one of the major concerns at the local level,” Gregory said, adding that EMS workers “want to know what’s on site, what’s being used and preferably ahead of time.”

Cooper said the attorney made a good point—and that he’s often heard from others that it would be better if companies revealed their chemical ingredients before they drilled.

“As a general rule, once they get a history developed, they rarely ever change the format,” Cooper said about drilling companies. “They most likely can come up with a list of chemicals they plan to use, and may not use all of them. Be nice to know that up front, take away the fear.”

The two industry representatives on the panel didn’t say much about the request to disclose what Gregory called the laundry list of chemicals.

Bruce Prather, a geologist with the Virginia Gas and Oil Board, said drillers don’t always know what chemicals they might need until they are drilling. They might need one additive to react to lime, another to contend with sandstone.

Kevin Elkins, the state manager of the CNX Gas Co., said he wanted to “go back and investigate this a little further.”

His company has done its own tests to determine toxicity levels, he said, adding, “That’s how we’re satisfying our need to understand the chemicals.”

He said he wanted to ask other drillers what issues they might have with supplying a list of ingredients.

Panel members also talked about FracFocus, a website where drillers list what chemicals they use. Participation is voluntary.

Skiffington said the site sometimes goes down, and Gregory said it is difficult to search across states or companies.

Linda Muller, the chairwoman of the Rappahannock group of the Sierra Club, asked the panel during the public comment period to recommend that the state set up its own website for registering chemicals used in fracking.

In a letter dated December 2013, the Virginia Oil and Gas Association also asked DMME to require all Virginia drilling companies to participate in the FracFocus registry.

“Even though this industry has been safely utilizing the fracking process for over 50 years, we want to be totally transparent,” wrote Greg Kozera, president of the association.

The panel plans to meet again July 2 in Richmond and July 23 in Abingdon, closer to where three of the nine panel members live. Information about the meetings will be posted on the DMME’s website this week, Skiffington said.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

KING GEORGE HOSTING FRACKING MEETING

There have been town-hall meetings, informational sessions labeled as “Fracking 101” and reports from various state officials at one government meeting or another.

Next Thursday, the King George Board of Supervisors will bring all the players who have something to say about the gas and oil industry under one roof. The board plans an informational meeting from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at King George High School.

Chairman Joe Grzeika will talk about King George’s efforts to research its land-use policies pertaining to gas drilling. Former state Del. Albert Pollard, who has given many reports on the process of hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking, will make a presentation.

He will be followed by officials with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, Southern Environmental Law Center and Shore Exploration and Production Corp., the Dallas-based company that wants to drill in the region.

The schedule will be tight. According to the draft agenda, each speaker will get 15 minutes—far less than many have used in previous sessions. After their presentations, there will be a 10-minute break for audience members to submit written questions on provided forms.

Grzeika said a number of officials from other local governments plan to attend, and they will be given a total of 10 minutes to comment.

The last 25 minutes of the meeting will be devoted to answering written questions.

Grzeika said all the questions will be forwarded to appropriate agencies and made available to the public on request. He said it’s better to limit the meeting to two hours than let it turn into “an open-ended, 2 o’clock-in-the-morning approach.”

Grzeika also said having the audience submit queries in writing means the board “will get questions and not lectures.”

—Cathy Dyson

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