Tue09162014

Last updateThu, 19 Nov 2015 8pm

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Senator Stuart introduces legislation to toughen oil and gas drilling regulations

State Sen. Richard Stuart, who represents Virginia’s 28th District, which includes King George and part of Westmoreland County, has introduced General Assembly legislation that could ban drilling for oil and gas east of I-95.

Texas-based Shore Exploration and Production has discovered potential natural gas deposits in the Taylorsville Basin in Virginia and is signing drilling leases in the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula.

The Taylorsville Basin is a 210-million-year-old layer of shale deposits that runs from Richmond to Maryland underneath the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers. The possibility of drilling in the area, including the use of hydraulic fracking, is controversial among landowners and conservationists.

“This oil and gas activity causes me a great deal of concern, because our region contains one of the largest freshwater aquifers of its kind,” said Stuart.

“We enjoy some of the highest quality drinking water as a result of the Potomac and Chesapeake aquifers, which are giant freshwater pools, and we have enjoyed the benefit of this for many, many years.”

“What has really concerned me about the oil and gas activity in the Taylorsville Basin is that you would have to drill through the freshwater aquifers in order to reach the natural gas or oil, whichever the case may be,” Stuart said.

“If you reach any of these products, you have to bring it back up through the freshwater aquifer to the surface in order to exploit it,” Stuart said. “I am concerned about the risk to our drinking water.”

Stuart said his bill may not eventually end up banning drilling and fracking, but he hopes it will at least will lead to a compromise with gas and oil interests on regulations that would allow the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to protect the groundwater in what is know as the Eastern Groundwater Management Area.

Currently, Shore Exploration holds signed drilling leases for 84,390 acres in the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula, including 13,864 acres in Westmoreland and 10,443 acres in King George. The company plans to begin drilling in about 18 months.

Stan Sherrill, president of Shore Exploration and Production Corp., has promised his company would be environmentally responsible. “We have to satisfy not only the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, but also the Department of Environmental Quality and the local Board of Supervisors. We have a lot of work to do, and we want to be a good neighbor.”
Stuart said he hopes his bill will ensure that the company’s good intentions are monitored closely by DEQ. The bill, SB48, would apply to groundwater and the associated aquifers in the Atlantic Coastal Plain and require DEQ to adopt regulations protecting surface and groundwater resources before the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy could issue a drilling permit.

“While I am an individual who believes firmly that we need to free ourselves from dependence on foreign oil and develop our own energy supplies,” said Stuart, “I always believe a risk–benefit analysis has to be done before our resources are exploited.”

Richard Leggitt

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