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Workshops will drill into fracking

Residents and elected officials have the chance to hear about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, from people on all sides of the issue, as well as from those who have experienced gas drilling in rural communities.

Two workshops—the first on Wednesday and another Sept. 19—are scheduled by planning district officials in the Northern Neck. Both aim to shed more light on a topic that’s fraught with controversy.

“Hydraulic fracturing is either a financial windfall for landowners and communities or an environmental Pandora’s box, depending on whom you ask,” wrote Jerry Davis, director of the Northern Neck Planning District Commission.

His agency is hosting a panel discussion with representatives from state and federal agencies, as well as the gas industry.

fracking

Anti-fracking demonstrators attended a pro-drilling rally at the Pennsylvania state Capitol earlier this year. FILE/BRACLEY C. BOWER/ ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

Tommy Blackwell, commissioner of revenue in Essex County, has invited other commissioners throughout the region to a session held by the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission.

That workshop features officials from Washington County, Pa., which is part of the Marcellus Shale gas boom.

Blackwell believes local commissioners of revenue, who would handle the assessment and taxation side of gas drilling, “should be involved now so that we won’t be surprised somewhere down the road.”

He added: “I don’t think that we can learn enough about the oil and gas industry and its potential impact on our rural way of life.”

Starting last December, there have been educational sessions and town hall meetings to inform people about fracking, the process of injecting water and chemicals deep into the ground to loosen trapped natural gas.

They came about because a Texas-based company, Shore Exploration and Production Corp., leased 84,000 acres in five counties for potential drilling.

The counties—Caroline, Essex, King George, King and Queen, and Westmoreland—make up part of the Taylorsville basin, where there’s an estimated 1.06 trillion cubic feet of natural gas underground.

Shore officials initially hoped to start drilling by the end of this year or mid-2015. But Ken Snow, a land man with Shore, told the King George Board of Supervisors on Aug. 5 that fracking “is not something to be concerned about in the immediate future.”

He said his company had no immediate plans for drilling.

Despite the apparent delay, others believe elected officials in the Taylorsville basin shouldn’t wait until drill rigs show up to start considering zoning ordinances and regulations.

“Thankfully, we have the time to study the issues carefully, hear from all sides and decide how to proceed,” said Greg Buppert, a staff attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Let’s make good use of that time.”

A Texas company has leased land in the Northern Neck to erect fracking wells like this one in Pennsylvania.  FILE/LES STONE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

A Texas company has leased land in the Northern Neck to erect fracking wells like this one in Pennsylvania.

FILE/LES STONE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

SEPT. 3 IN WARSAW

The first session is Wednesday Sept. 3 and sponsored by the Northern Neck–Chesapeake Bay Region Partnership. That’s a group of elected, business and educational leaders created by the Northern Neck Planning District in 2001.

The meeting starts at 2 p.m. in Room 122 of the Rappahannock Community College in Warsaw.

The panel discussion will include Maurice Jones, state commerce secretary; Molly Ward, state secretary of natural resources; Rick Parrish, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center; Greg Kozera, past president of the Virginia Oil and Gas Association; and a representative from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The community college is making the discussion part of its lecture series and will broadcast it at all of its campuses.

SEPT. 19 IN TAPPAHANNOCK

The Middle Peninsula’s workshop is planned at 1 p.m. Sept. 19 at the Old Beale Memorial Church in Tappahannock. The address is 19622 Tidewater Trail.

Dave Ball, Brian Coppola and Andy Schrader are elected representatives who serve or have served three different townships in Pennsylvania. They will talk about their experiences during the gas boom, from infrastructure development to the after-effects of fracking.

“Learn from their efforts and hear what they wish they had known ahead of time,” wrote Lewis Lawrence, executive director of the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission.

He asked everyone he invited to extend the invitation to local members of boards of supervisors and planning commissions, and to directors of planning.

Former Del. Albert Pollard has been involved with several informational meetings about fracking. He isn’t involved with these workshops, but believes “that more information is better.”

“I have faith that local leaders will come to good decisions if both sides put forward their honest perspective,” he said.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

 

LAW MORE STRINGENT IN COASTAL AREAS

A state law that goes back to the 1980s puts extra provisions in place to protect Virginia’s coastal plain, should any company want to drill for oil and gas there.

The coastal plain includes areas east of Interstate 95 and the Taylorsville basin, where a Texas company has leased more than 84,000 acres for possible drilling.

When the governor announced last week that two state agencies—the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy and the Department of Environmental Quality—had agreed to work together to review permits for companies interested in drilling in the Taylorsville basin, it wasn’t new news. One of the provisions of Virginia Code 62.1–195.1 is that both agencies must review applications.

The stipulation is one of several extra measures required of drillers in the Tidewater region. Gas and oil companies that work elsewhere in the state, including Southwest Virginia, do not have to meet these conditions:

Environmental impact assessment: Companies must perform a study that examines the chances and consequences of an accidental discharge and its impact on fish, birds and wildlife; air and water quality; and land and water resources. It also must recommend ways to minimize the financial and environmental impacts of drilling.

Involvement of agencies: After the DMME receives an applicant’s environmental impact assessment, it has to notify the DEQ, which must publish notice of the application and give the public a chance to respond. DEQ also must pass the assessment to other appropriate agencies for review, then make its recommendation to DMME within 90 days. The DMME cannot issue a permit for drilling without considering the findings and recommendations of DEQ, the law states.

Permission of all landowners: Elsewhere in Virginia, drillers can access property of those who haven’t leased their land, if the company has leases on one-fourth of the acreage in a particular unit. Under this special state law, companies that want to operate in the Taylorsville basin have to have permission of all landowners before they can drill.

Other provisions: The company must file a plan to show how it would contain oil or gas discharges, if they occur, and show proof of financial responsibility to put the plan in place. The plan has to be approved by the State Water Control Board. Other measures include stabilizing the drilling site with board or gravel to limit runoff; installing a well casing deeper into the ground to protect water; and having certified workers during drilling to prevent blowouts. Also, contractors cannot dispose of fracking waste fluids on site.

-Cathy Dyson

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