Monday, November 28, 2016

LWV and Fracking in Virginia

Last Saturday I attended the Prince William Area League of Women Voters general meeting at the Community Library in Manassas. The topic for the day was Fracking, or more formally hydraulic fracturing, a method to release natural gas and oil trapped inside bedrock that cannot be economically retrieved with traditional methods. Advances in horizontal drilling which allows a vertically drilled well to turn and run thousands of feet laterally through the earth combined with advances in hydraulic fracturing (fracking), the pumping of millions of gallons of water and laced with thousands of gallons of chemicals into shale at high pressure have increased our ability to recover natural gas from shale. Long ignored shale gas is potentially valuable. Until recently there was no economically feasible way to extract this gas. Fracking is a fiercely debated political and environmental issue.

The Virginia League of Women Voter's report was well-researched and an impartial review of the science, regulation and current status of Fracking in Virginia. Rona Ackerman of Fairfax gave an excellent and engaging presentation of the report and lead the discussion. Though I encourage you to read the report for an unbiased review of the technology and what we know about fracking, the most important take away was the status of fracking and fracking regulations in Virginia.
from DMME

Virginia has gas rich shale deposits. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated that the Taylorsville basin contains over a trillion cubic feet of gas. The Taylorsville basin has not been explored using newer fracking techniques so it is not known if we have the technology to exploit these deposits, yet. However, over 84,000 acres in the Taylorsville basin have been leased for 7 years by Shore Drilling.

The oldest type of hydraulic fracturing is coal bed formation fracturing that has been used for more than 65 years. The volume of water needed for hydraulic fracturing varies by site and type of formation. Fifty thousand to 350,000 gallons of water may be required to fracture one well in a coal bed formation while two to five million gallons of water injected at much higher pressure may be necessary to fracture one horizontal well in a shale formation. Virginia currently only has gas well in the coal rich Appalachian Plateau 6,000 of 8,400 existing wells were dry fracked. The existing wells are vertical wells that were nitrogen fracked. This is a completely different technology than contemplated for the Taylorsville shale deposit.
from DMME

In 2013 then Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issued an opinion that stated “a local governing body cannot ban altogether the exploration for, and the drilling of, oil and natural gas within the locality’s boundaries.” However, in May 2015 current Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring issued an opinion that stated “Localities may use their zoning authority to prohibit “unconventional gas and oil drilling,” commonly known as fracking.” Following this opinion the King George Board of Supervisors in the Taylorsville basin voted to amend their zoning ordinance and Comprehensive Plan, prohibiting drilling within 750 feet from resource protected areas, such as rivers and creeks, as well as roads, buildings and schools, leaving only 9% of the county potentially eligible for drilling.

In 2015 the Virginia Department of Mines Minerals and Energy (DMME) promulgated New Gas and Oil Regulations. In summary the regulations would:
(i)                  amend permit application requirements to include disclosure of all ingredients anticipated to be used in hydraulic fracturing operations, certification that the proposed operation complies with local land use ordinances, inclusion of a groundwater sampling and monitoring plan, and submission of an emergency response plan; 
(ii)                require a pre-application meeting jointly conducted by the DMME and the Department of Environmental Quality before an operator drills for gas or oil in Tidewater Virginia; 
(iii)               require well operators to use FracFocus, the national hydraulic fracturing chemical registry website, to disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations; 
(iv)               establish a groundwater sampling, analysis, and monitoring program before and after well construction; 
(v)                add language related to the use of centralizers in the water protection string of the casing; 
(vi)               strengthen casing and pressure testing requirements for well casings used in conventional and coalbed methane gas wells; and
(vii)             provide protection for trade secrets from public dissemination while allowing this information to be made available to first responders and local officials in the event of an emergency.”

The new Gas and Oil Regulations were submitted for final approval by Governor Terry McAuliffe last August. It is still waiting for approval and there is no timeline, but approval is expected this year. The Gas industry has been trying to delay the regulations in Virginia so that a bill tabled from last year to exempt the Gas industry from Freedom of Information Act requirements for fracking chemicals. This bill, HB1389, was carried over from last year and should not pass. It is important not only for first responders, but for citizens to know what chemicals they are potentially being exposed to. From data from FracFocus we know that 29 known or possible human carcinogens regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, or listed as hazardous air pollutants were used in 650 out of 2500 fracking products. Unless you know what chemicals to look for, it is virtually impossible to test air and water pathways for every possible contaminant. Please consider calling your delegate to vote against HV 1389 this year.

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