- Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 December 2013 12:37
- Published on Wednesday, 18 December 2013 12:37
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Public meetings last week on proposed efforts to drill for natural gas in the ancient shale deposits that make up the Taylorsville Basin made the point that county officials in King George and Westmoreland will need to be busy in the coming months preparing regulations to protect citizens and the environment.
In meetings in Bowling Green and Montross, speakers talked about the good news and the bad news that may result from the drilling efforts, and urged local officials to be prepared for both.
The good news included dramatic job growth, substantial income for landowners, state and local revenue and increased energy production. The bad news included increased truck traffic on local roads, declining property values, noise and possible threats to the environment.
Texas-based Shore Exploration and Production discovered potential natural gas deposits in the Taylorsville Basin in Virginia more than 20 years ago. The basin is a 210-million-year-old layer of shale deposits that runs from Richmond to Maryland underneath the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers. At the time, drilling costs to obtain the natural gas locked in the shale were considered prohibitive. But recent developments in using hydraulic fracturing --- commonly called fracking -- have led to significant energy production in other areas of the country and may be the key to energy production in Virginia.
Shore Exploration has 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. Actual drilling is scheduled to begin in about 18 months.
Last week’s meetings were hosted by the Friends of the Rappahannock and the Caroline County Countryside Alliance. More than 40,000 acres have been leased for drilling in Caroline County. At both meetings, Friends of the Rappahannock Executive Director John Tippett said his organization “has not taken a position on whether hydraulic fracturing is good or bad. What we hope is to start a conversation between elected officials and each other,” Tippett said.
Westmoreland Supervisor Rosemary Mahan said she felt speakers “tried to give both sides.” Mahan said she considered the meetings “very informative and fairly unbiased” and noted the local officials who attended have work to do to be prepared for the proposed natural gas drilling.
“I think it is important for us to get as much information as possible about the topic and have a determination of what our responsibilities are with regard to regulation on a local level,” Westmoreland County Administrator Norm Risavi said, when interviewed about the drilling proposal. Risavi said the Northern Neck Planning District Commission has arranged for local officials to hear a presentation on the drilling proposal from the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy at its next meeting in January.
One of the speakers at both meetings was Gwen Lachelt, a county commissioner from Durango, Colorado, who, while clearly no fan of fracking, outlined the pluses and minuses that can come from such a project. Lachelt said that oil and gas drilling began in LaPlata County, Colorado more than a quarter-century ago. Today there are more than 3,400 wells in the county. “We were not prepared for the impact,” said Lachelt, who is the founder of the Earthworks Oil & Gas Accountability Project. Lachelt said hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves injecting millions of gallons of water and chemicals into the shale deposits to crack them so natural gas, or oil, can be extracted. “Our county and our state have received tremendous benefits from oil and gas production,” Lachelt said. “But it hasn’t come without some impact.” Lachelt noted that in Colorado, “Before we knew it, drilling rigs were popping up everywhere, property values near drilling sites declined and there continues to be heavy truck traffic that is having an impact on our roads.”
Stan Sherrill, president of Shore Exploration and Production Corp., who attended both meetings, promised his company would be environmentally responsible. “There are a lot of laws in the state of Virginia that are not in Colorado,” Sherrill said. “We have to satisfy not only DMME [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.”
Rick Parrish of the Southern Environmental Law Center agreed with Sherrill that Virginia is better prepared than many states for the impact of drilling, as a result of state laws enacted in the 1990s to protect the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. “The state believes it has the current regulations needed to oversee shale drilling,” Parrish said. “Virginia is in better shape than most places,” Parrish said.