Fracking (the natural gas drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing, which uses high pressure blasts of water mixed with a chemical cocktail to break the rock and unlock the gas), has been losing popularity recently. Hooray!
In December, 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officially blamed fracking for water contamination in Wyoming. Earthquakes in both Oklahoma and more recently Ohio may well have been caused by fracking.
Now Rockingham County in Virginia has sent a firm rejection to Carrizo Oil and Gas who were seeking a permit to pursue fracking near Bergton, in the foothills of the Blue Mountains.
The company’s intent was to build Virginia’s first well to explore for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, a prehistoric shale formation that runs from Ohio to lower Virginia and contains one of the richest gas reserves in the world, according to the Energy Information Administration. As I know from driving through there, this is also an extremely beautiful area of the country, but apparently Carrizo didn’t care about that.
So what happened?
All it needed to start the job was a special land-use permit from the four Republicans and one Democrat on Rockingham County’s Board of Supervisors.
Carrizo didn’t even come close. Concerned about controversial drilling methods, the supervisors never voted on the permit, and recently the company shelved its application following a two-year pursuit, ending its immediate hopes of exploring for gas.
Opposition Led By Republican Supervisor
From The Washington Post:
Rockingham County’s opposition to Carrizo was led by one man, Pablo Cuevas, a Republican supervisor whose district covers Bergton. The county already has about 20 gas wells, so residents are familiar with drilling operations. But alarmed by reports of chemical water contamination from hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in New York, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, Cuevas investigated Carrizo and Marcellus drilling in those states with a pit bull’s determination.
Cuevas discovered that some residents complained of well water contamination and the strong stench of chemicals from fracking. Others said mechanical noise from the operation of the well persists through the night. Motorists complained of massive truck convoys that ruin roads.
Cuevas wanted no part of that. Virginia just spent $5 million building a new road into Bergton and trucks from a well operation would likely destroy it, he said. And it turned out that if chemicals used by Carrizo somehow contaminated the groundwater that area farmers rely on, the law only required the company to put aside $25,000 to cover the damage.
Supervisor Cuevas Takes Up The Offensive
In numerous meetings, Cuevas asked question after question. At first, landowners who granted leases to Carrizo in return for rent payments and royalties were upset with Cuevas. But after public hearings in which environmentalists and landowners in other states testified, their opinions slowly changed.
The supervisor even took on the State of Virginia
From The Washington Post:
At one meeting, the state lobbied on Carrizo’s behalf, telling Cuevas not to worry. Carrizo was trying to operate a vertical well similar to those that have operated in Virginia since the 1930s, said Rick Cooper, director of the Division of Gas and Oil in the Department of Mines, Mineral and Energy. A hydraulic fracturing operation with heavy chemicals was not in its plans.
But Cuevas wasn’t persuaded. If Carrizo struck gas, their methods could change, he said, “and I’ve already given them permission to drill. They don’t have to come back to me for any more permission.”
In the end, Cooper realized the process wouldn’t go forward. The bad news from fracking operations “has had an impact,” he said. “To what level I’m not sure.”
Carrizo abandoned its proposal in December.
Growing Opposition To Fracking
Concerned about the safety of the fracking process, the state of Maryland last year postponed decisions on two permit applications to search for gas in the Marcellus under Garrett County until the completion of an exhaustive study.
Negative publicity about water contamination at drilling sites in the Chesapeake Bay region and out west in Texas, Wyoming and Oklahoma is also raising concern even among those who support gas exploration.
Thank you, Supervisor Cuevas, for defending the health and safety of the people of Virginia. One more blow to Big Gas and Oil.
Photo Credit: forwardstl