Advisory Panel in Virginia takes on Fracking Rules

by Duane Nichols on June 3, 2014

Earthquakes Occur in Virginia

Virginia to review natural gas fracking rules

From an Article by Steve Szkotak, Associated Press, May 31, 2014

RICHMOND—Virginia is looking anew at regulations governing hydraulic fracking for natural gas, a drilling method that has spawned a gold rush for the energy resource in the U.S. and given rise to its own environmental movement.

The review comes ahead of a Dallas energy company’s plans to drill in tens of thousands of leased acres south and east of Fredericksburg. To date, drilling for natural gas in Virginia has occurred only in the southwest Coalfields region of the state.

The Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy has assembled an advisory panel of state officials, an industry representative and others to review the state’s existing rules on fracking, as the process is informally called. Its first meeting is Wednesday in Richmond.

Michael A. Skiffington, the DMME’s program support manager, said the advisory panel will offer recommendations in several areas, including whether drilling companies should be required to disclose what chemicals they use to drill.

Panel members will also review best industry practices and whether additional requirements are needed for drilling in different regions of the state, Skiffington said.

Citing quickly evolving drilling methods, he said the department is reviewing its existing regulations to ensure they “provide for safe and environmentally sound natural gas production.”

Many drilling companies voluntarily disclose contents of their fracking fluids, but critics contend they can avoid full disclosure by declaring chemicals or precise recipes as trade secrets.

The review also comes as interest grows in the Taylorsville Basin in eastern Virginia. Containing an estimated 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, the basin is beneath the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula along the Chesapeake Bay. It also extends into Maryland.

With an eye on tapping those reserves, Shore Oil and Exploration Corp. has leased approximately 84,000 acres in five counties in the Fredericksburg area: Caroline, Essex, King George, King and Queen and Westmoreland. The company said it hopes to start drilling by 2015.

Environmental groups such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and The Nature Conservancy have sounded the alarm about the prospect of drilling in an area snug to the Chesapeake Bay, which is amid a massive federally directed cleanup after years of pollution and neglect. The area east of Interstate 95 already has more stringent regulations on fracking because of its proximity to water source.

In a letter to DMME from the Southern Environmental Law Center, representing an array of conservation groups, the state’s existing regulations are called inadequate.

It warns, “Virginia must not repeat the lessons learned during the drilling boom in West Virginia and Pennsylvania where the fast pace of development forced regulators to play catch up with the industry’s widespread impacts on the environment and communities.” We have an important opportunity to insure [sic] that Virginia’s regulatory framework is amended before high-volume hydraulic fracturing is underway in the state.”

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