Monday, February 1, 2016

Stop HB 1389

The oil and gas industry has found a champion to prevent the disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking oil and gas wells in Virginia. Last week on Tuesday, January 26th a half an hour after adjournment in the 3rd Floor East Conference Room, Delegate Robinson introduced her bill to allow industry to avoid disclosure of the chemicals in fracking fluid. This was submitted after the deadline and introduced in a committee that she sits in on. The bill is HB 1389, carried by Delegate Robinson and you can help us by asking your delegate to vote NO on HB 1389.

HB 1389 summary: “Virginia Freedom of Information Act; record exclusion for trade secrets submitted to the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy. Excludes from the mandatory disclosure provisions of FOIA trade secrets, as defined in the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (§ 59.1-336 et seq.), submitted to the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy as part of the required permit or permit modification to commence ground-disturbing activities. The bill provides that in order for such trade secrets to be excluded, the submitting party shall (i) invoke this exclusion upon submission of the data or materials for which protection from disclosure is sought, (ii) identify the data or materials for which protection is sought, and (iii) state the reasons why protection is necessary.”

This raises concerns. Drilling companies use a variety of chemicals in their drilling process, which have been undisclosed in the past because they are considered ‘trade secrets’. Without knowledge of what chemicals are being injected into these well the impact can these chemicals can have on the surrounding environment and populations cannot be judged or easily discovered. Even if some impact is seen or suspected, it is necessary to know what chemicals you are looking for. If there is an accidental spill, first responders need to know what safety equipment and protective clothing are necessary to protect the public and our property. We are beyond the time for these trade secrets, it is more important to protect our water resources, our environment and our people.

As a Director of the Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District I have been a member of the Sub-Committee on Fracking for the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, VASWCD. In a series of regular meetings during the past year we examined the fracking processes in Virginia and the Eastern Virginia Groundwater Management Area and to developed a policy that was ultimately approved by the VASWCD Board and adopted by vote of the membership at our annual meeting in Richmond.

The Fracking Sub-Committee was lead by Chip Jones of Northern Neck and included: Andrew Gilmer, Clinch Valley; Wayne Webb, Lord Fairfax; Deirdre Clark, John Marshall; Kris Dennen, Loudoun; Janet Gayle Harris, Tri-County/City; Elizabeth Ward, Prince William; Henry Snodgrass, Holston River; Nicole Anderson Ellis, Henricopolis; Matt Kowalski, Lord Fairfax; Mark Monson, Thomas Jefferson SWCD; and Harrison Daniel, Northern Neck. We were assisted by the VASWCD staff.

The VASWCD Policy on Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) in the Eastern Virginia Groundwater Management Area supports revision of Virginia Oil & Gas Act managed by the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy to include:

1. Postponing the issuance of any permits for hydraulic fracturing of gas and/or oil-bearing formations in Virginia/Eastern Virginia Groundwater Management Area until such a time as a baseline of groundwater flow systems and their relationships to the underlying geology can be conducted, interpreted, and reported. The research and interpretation should be conducted by a group of non-partial professionals with the appropriate expertise (e.g. USGS).

2. Performing a comprehensive review of Virginia regulations concerning resource extraction, specifically updating regulations to incorporate standards for the hydraulic fracturing of gas and/or oil-bearing formations. This review should include consideration of the safe handling and disposal of all products of the fracking process including well cuttings and used fracturing fluids.

3. Strengthening the regulatory process by requiring VDMME & VDEQ to have joint permit approval authority throughout Virginia. If Virginia regulatory authority is structured such that joint permit approval is not feasible, then DMME should not issue fracking permits unless all DEQ recommendations are also required by DMME for issuance of a permit.

4. Requiring certain minimum engineering/management practices (BMPs) to safeguard Virginia citizens and resources, including but not limited to: continuous monitoring, full public disclosure of all chemical ingredients and chemical breakdown products and volumes, and emergency cleanup plans.

5. Require bonding in amounts adequate to address comprehensive oversight of each operation and full site remediation.

6. Ensure that DMME, DEQ, and other regulatory agencies with oversight of the hydraulic fracturing industry are funded and staffed at appropriate levels to monitor all extraction operations and enforce all regulations.

ISSUE: Several leases for oil and gas drilling have been obtained in the Taylorsville Basin, which is located in the Coastal Plain of Virginia. Currently, the region does not have any active wells and has only had exploratory drilling done in the past. Proximity to the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, as well as fragile geology of groundwater aquifers, causes concern of possible water contamination during the drilling and hydraulic fracturing process.


Hydraulic fracturing requires massive amounts of water, sometimes in the excess of millions of gallons, to create a gas producing well. Where will that water come from?

Procedures for the safe management and /or disposal of waste products, including recovered contaminated injection water, have not been identified. Fracking processes, as well as the post-fracking injection of fracking fluids, have been identified as contributors and/or causes of seismic activity in several states.

d. Drilling companies use a variety of chemicals in their drilling process, which is undisclosed because they are considered ‘trade secrets’. We do not know what impact can these chemicals have by themselves on the surrounding environment and population.

e. If drilling were to be approved in the Taylorsville Basin, the minimum engineering/management procedures that must be implemented are:

  1. Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy and the Department of Environmental Quality must have joint approval authority for permits.
  2. Monitoring wells must be in place in close proximity to drilling sites to ensure groundwater quality is maintained.
  3. All chemicals used in the process must be publicly disclosed with such information being registered with the Virginia Departments of Mines, Minerals, and Energy, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.
  4. All recommendations to the drilling permit application by DEQ MUST be implemented before DMME grants final approval.
  5. Surface and ground water cleanup plans shall be developed for the drilling site and all downstream impacts.
  6. Sufficient bond, paid by the drilling company, shall be in place to cover any potential cleanup costs of contaminated areas at the drilling site and associated impact areas, and to address the requirements of the surface and groundwater remediation plans. Bonding should also be sufficient to cover physical damage and economic impact from environmental contamination.

The Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts supports postponing the issuance of any permits for hydraulic fracturing of gas and/or oil-bearing formations in the Eastern Virginia Groundwater Management Area until all of the concerns noted above have been addressed and appropriate mechanisms are in place to assure the protection of the environmental quality of the region.

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