- Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 June 2014 10:10
- Published on Wednesday, 04 June 2014 10:10
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Westmoreland County, Montross and other localities around Virginia have received a small victory in the fight against fracking.
In April, Montross joined Westmoreland County in drafting and adopting 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, prior to approving any state permit for exploratory or production oil or gas wells in Westmoreland County. Montross sent a letter to the Governor conveying this request.
Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Joseph Ward responded for Governor McAulliffe. Ward announced in a letter dated May 2, to Mayor David R. O’Dell, Jr. that the Commonwealth will conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) before any drilling permit can be issued for gas extraction from the Taylorsville Basin.
The Taylorsville Basin is an ancient geologic formation and runs through a portion of Westmoreland County. It is believed to contain shale and to be rich in oil and natural gas.
According to Ward, the EIA will be reviewed by the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The assessment must address the potential risks and impacts on water supplies and natural resources, as well as the economic, fiscal and infrastructural impacts on localities.
The assessment also includes a review by affected localities, planning districts and the general public, according to Ward.
The resolutions are in response to Shore Exploration & Production Corporation (SE&PC) securing more than 84,000 acres of oil and gas leases on the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula, including portions of Westmoreland County. SE&PC recently announced that it expects to start drilling for oil and natural gas in the Taylorsville Basin in the next twelve months.
Recently, Hydraulic Fracturing, or “Fracking” (as it has become named) has been used more, since traditional methods have depleted the easy to access fuel. Fracking is a method of extracting natural gas from deep layers in the earth. Developed in the 1940s, fracking has become a more popular way of obtaining natural gas by petroleum companies. However, many citizens oppose the procedure, and there are countless claims of environmental impacts.
Natural gas starts from fossil fuels; through natural processes it can be thrust upward and trapped in pockets, allowing it to be extracted by straight, downward drilling. This is the traditional method of obtaining natural gas.
The fracking process uses both downward and horizontal drilling. It goes to the fossil fuels at their source, and uses sand, water and a mixture of chemicals to fracture porous rock, causing the gases to be released.
Once the horizontal drilling reaches the desired area of rock, the fracking fluid is pumped into the rock using high-powered pumps. This causes the rocks to fracture, and sand is trapped in the fractures to keep them open. An average of 8 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 various chemicals, many of which are harmful to the environment.
Over 700 chemicals can be used in the process of fracking, many of which pose serious health risks if not properly disposed of or contained.
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.
This water is never recovered and cannot be filtered by any methods in use today, according to those who oppose fracking, and fear the water used is lost forever. Some critics believe that some of the contaminated water reaches drinking wells.
Montross, like many other localities, focused on the damage to infrastructure such as roadways, since fracking methods require a constant, around the clock, stream of semi trucks, bringing in chemicals and hauling away gas.
This strategy seems to have worked; in the letter to the Montross Town Council, Ward states, “I have directed DEQ to work closely with the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) to ensure that no drilling permits are issued, unless and until this activity can be managed safely.
In addition to that statement, the letter seemed to send a message to the Town of Montross when it stated that local governments also have a role in determining under what circumstances drilling and production of natural gas can occur. The letter goes on to say that “Local land use ordinances can be used to regulate the traffic, noise and other aspects of the activity that impact the community.”
The Montross Town Council did not discuss matters concerning local ordinances at the May meeting, but was very pleased with the results of its efforts so far.