- Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 June 2014 10:07
- Published on Wednesday, 18 June 2014 10:07
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Fracking for natural gas and oil was the topic of a public information meeting last week in King George that drew about 150 people, in addition to public officials and the press.
Hydraulic fracturing – called fracking, or hydrofracking – is a process whereby chemicals and water are forced deep into the ground to fracture the shale rock strata to release natural gas.
The process involves drilling more than a mile underground, then turning the drilling horizontally and drilling further to place piping. Explosives are set off inside the pipe to punch holes into it to disperse the pressured chemicals and water solution.
It’s possible that nitrogen or other types of fracking using less water might be done in this region should permits be approved by state and local authorities.
In the past year or so, Shore Exploration & Production Corporation of Dallas has secured mineral rights leases for more than 84,000 acres in King George, Westmoreland, Caroline, Essex and King and Queen Counties.
There are currently no permit applications filed for gas or oil drilling in the region. The presenters made it clear that if fracking comes to the Taylorsville Basin, it will be subject to a lengthy process prior to permit approval.
Joe Grzeika, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, presided at the session on June 12 at the high school, providing introductions for presenters.
They were former state delegate Albert Pollard providing a fracking overview, Scott Kudlas - Director of the Office of Water Supply for the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Michael Skiffington - Program Support Manager for the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) with William Lassetter - Economic Geologist from DMME, Rick Parrish from the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), and Stan Sherrill, President of Shore Exploration & Production Corporation of Dallas.
The first five presenters provided information based on history and current facts, along with some advice on how the county might make changes to its Comprehensive Plan and land use ordinances to help mitigate the numerous potential side effects of drilling and its industrialization of a rural area.
The sixth presenter, drilling executive Sherrill of Shore Exploration, expressed opinions, several purported to be from former White House advisors or cabinet members, with a lot of his own tossed in.
90-DAY ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT REVIEW PROCESS
Both Kudlas and the DMME reps stressed DEQ’s role in the state’s permitting process noting that state law calls for a 90-day Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to be performed by DEQ prior to a permit being issued by DMME.
The purpose of the EIA is for DEQ to compile and provide advice to DMME on minimizing any adverse economic, fiscal, or environmental impacts in their drilling permitting process.
The 90-day clock for DEQ to complete that EIA process includes a 30-day public comment period, at a minimum, and an advertised public hearing.
The resulting environmental assessment would detail the impacts on water permitting for water withdrawal, as well as details on disposal of wastewater, whether proposed for recycling, hauling away for treatment, treatment onsite, discharge or deep injection.
DMME is required to consider the findings and recommendations before issuing a permit to an applicant for drilling.
DMME’s Skiffington also said a permit for an oil production well cannot be issued until the Governor has a chance to recommend legislative and regulatory changes followed by the General Assembly’s review of those legislative changes or implementation of its own.
DMME officials indicated that the aquifer would be protected by a thick concrete triple casing conduit when they drill through the aquifer to get to the shale beneath.
For the most part, the drilling company exec made broad statements, some ridiculous, saying, “There are many wonderful reasons for us to be excited about oil and gas exploration coming to this area.”
At least one of Sherrill’s opinions was indicated by other presenters to be false, when he said fracking fluid was safe to drink and all chemical ingredients were disclosed online.
Parrish disputed that statement about disclosure of ingredients, noting that some of the chemicals are disclosed, but the rest still remain secret. Pollard encouraged full disclosure.
Sherrill also said, “This is safe technology. This is something that we should go forward with.
There are many reasons not to be doing this wringing of the hands that we sometime see today.”
He noted there was some noise in the process, but added, “If you are 300 feet away, you are going to see very little interruption to the quality of your life.”
He failed to mention the heavy truck traffic generated by trucks coming and going 24/7 to bring in miles of piping, concrete ingredients, fracking fluid, water, or nitrogen-if used, as well as to haul away waste water, fracking sand, and other materials or by-products of drilling construction.
Sherrill also brought up allegations about air quality degradation in Wyoming due to fracking, countering them with a broad statement about air quality across the country.
“Air quality in America is better today, than it was in the 1970s,” Sherrill said, adding that fracking brings such great air quality to the U.S. primarily because of the move to use natural gas in power plants, instead of coal.
Sherrill’s simplistic statements ignored the facts that air quality has improved since the 1970s in large part due to enactment and enforcement of emissions standards to address some environmental problems associated with motor vehicles, along with use of catalytic converters and other improvements.
Following the forum, The Journal asked Grzeika for comments.
He told The Journal, “We are embarking on a fact and science based approach to really address issues related to safety of the aquifer, general overall safety to the community, the land use related issues and ensuring the proper and legal protection of property owner’s rights. This balancing of the different stakeholders’ needs is really what local government, or government in general is really about, doing it fairly and consistently is the goal at the end of the day.”
He stated, “It is clear today the environmental and permit issues really reside with the Commonwealth and the localities really have control of the land use piece of the equation. We will be engaging our Planning Commission to begin the process of a thorough and public review of our ordinances to address the issues related to drilling and/or fracking for either oil or gas and to provide the board a set of recommendations. The Board in the coming months will establish a set of goals and issues we want the Planning Commission to address, which may include issues related to noise, traffic, storage of equipment, material, gas, oil etc, and hours of operation, for example.”
Grzeika also said, “The issue really is how to address an industrial type of operation that may be sited in an agricultural/rural setting. Today all of the oil and gas drilling operations would fall under our special exception, so we have a great deal of latitude and it would be done on a case-by-case basis should a permit ever be applied for. Unless something occurred recently, we have no knowledge of any application for any permit to drill and or frack.”
During the question and answer time, it was asked how the product would be transported from the wells. Sherrill stated simply, “We would have to bring in a small pipeline.”
Grzeika provided a comment on the pipeline answer following the meeting. He said, “I think the comment regarding the pipeline further supports my intuition that the financial viability of fracking the Taylorsville Basin is questionable. The costs, versus the small amount of gas projected, really makes it financially a stretch, even by the most optimistic assessment. The lack of infrastructure and the limits of technology today, coupled with the environmental challenges, in my mind, make it improbable.”
Additional questions written by audience members but not addressed were provided to presenters for answers to be posted on the county website.