- Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 May 2014 09:51
- Published on Wednesday, 07 May 2014 09:00
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Both Westmoreland County and the Town of Montross have drafted and adopted a resolution requesting that the Governor, the Secretary of Commerce and Trade, and the Secretary of Natural Resources complete a joint report and recommendation on matters related to the production of oil and gas in the Tidewater region, as described in Virginia Code Ann. 62.1-195.1 subsection H, prior to approving any state permit for exploratory or production oil or gas wells in Westmoreland County.
This action is in response to the fact that Shore Exploration & Production Corporation has secured more than 84,000 acres of oil and gas leases on the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula, including portions of Westmoreland County, and it recently announced that it expects to start drilling for oil and natural gas in the Taylorsville basin within the next twelve months.
The Taylorsville basin runs through a portion of Westmoreland County. The basin is an ancient geologic formation, and is believed to contain shale, rich in oil and natural gas.
The fuels will likely be accessed through a technique called horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing; “fracking” for short.
Fracking has come under fire recently. The process is not new, as it was developed and used as far back as the 1940s. However, in the last ten years, depleted natural gas resources have made fracking a popular method of extraction among the mining industry. Many citizens oppose the procedure, and there are countless claims of environmental impacts.
The earth contains a layer of rock within a few miles of the surface called shale. Deposits of fossil fuels, including natural gas, are found within these rocks. Normally, natural processes force gas to rise upward and become trapped in air pockets.
In the conventional way, mining companies drill straight down to extract these fuels. With fracking, miners drill in a manner that captures the fuels still trapped within the layer of shale. The company drills a well straight down. Then, when it reaches the layer of shale, the drilling takes a horizontal turn into the rock formations. High-powered jets use a mixture of sand, water and chemicals to fracture the rock. Sand is deposited into the cracks, holding them open, allowing the gas and chemicals to be extracted.
An average of eight million liters of water, the equivalent of a daily consumption of around 65,000 people, is used for each drilling. The process also uses several thousand tons of sand and approximately 200,000 liters of chemicals.
Used primarily for extracting natural gas, fracking is not widely understood by many people before they are approached by mining companies who want to lease their property for drilling. Many landowners, who do not have the mineral rights to their property, stand to gain a little cash from leasing their land to the mining companies while drilling takes place. Landowners who still retain their mineral rights have a greater potential to make money, and many are becoming rich.
Oil companies using fracking state that the procedure is safe. Critics of fracking generally do not dispute whether the practice is safe, IF all safety precautions are followed. They do, however, argue that accidents can be monumentally dangerous to water supplies, and that the long-term effects of fracturing shale, the disposal of contaminated water deep underground, and other aspects of the collection process have not been studied well enough to determine the long-term risks years from now.
A combination of over 700 chemicals could be used, and the mining industry does not have to reveal which chemicals they use. Some companies have listed some of the chemicals used in the process of fracking as: 2-Butoxyethanol, Ethylhexanol, Formaldehyde, Glutaraldehyde, Boric Acid, Ethylene glycol, Methanol, Monoethanolamine, Dazomet, Acetic Anhydride, Isopropanol, Propargyl Alcohol, Diesel and Sodium Bo carbonate.
The chemicals (among other tasks) compress the water, kill bacteria and dissolve minerals. Most of the fluid is pumped out again, and the natural gas is recovered. Then, the remaining fluid is pumped deep underground and sealed in the layers of rock or ground.
In August 2005, the US Congress voted to exempt fracking from regulation under the Safe Water Drinking Act. Under President Bush, this was a bipartisan bill. Then-Senator Barack Obama also voted for the same exemption.
Many landowners report that the mining companies seek out individual landowners and lease the mineral rights to their land. Once leased, if contamination occurs and the industry is at fault, landowners are powerless to speak out because they sign agreements with non-disclosure clauses, which prevent investigation.
Because laws are so lax for the mining industry, localities across the country are trying every effort to stall fracking until more studies can be done to seek out the long-term impacts.
Aside from the obvious fear of ground and groundwater contamination, many localities have experienced serious road damage form the constant around-the-clock traffic of large trucks carrying chemicals to and from the drilling sites.
The Town of Montross is a small thoroughfare for State Route 3 (Kings Hwy.) and is currently working to implement a revitalization grant, for which it has worked hard during the past seven years. A significant portion of the revitalization takes place along State Route 3, and VDOT is scheduled to repave it in 2015. The Town wants to ensure the money and paving is not wasted, as well as protecting the environment for its citizens and that of neighboring residents.