Fracking Bills Hit the General Assembly

Don't Give Another Exemption to the Fracking Industry

The Virginia General Assembly is once again in session and right out of the gate, we are seeing proposed legislation that would pose significant risks to the Rappahannock River and the communities that we all call home. Last year FOR and our partners across the Commonwealth worked to convince Governor McAullife to sign new regulations to protect our water ways from the negaitve impacts associated with hydraulic fracturing or "fracking".
            
The general assembly is now trying to roll back some of the most important parts of these newly adopted regulations.  

HB 1678 and SB 1292 call for a FOIA exemption that automatically bars all access to trade secret information.

This is unacceptable; risks to public health and the environment must also be considered.

 

HB 1679 and SB 1291 go even further and negate three years of regulatory work on fracking chemical disclosure by adding a new mandatory trade secret exemption from FOIA to the new regulations.

  • DMME recently wrapped up a three-year process with wide stakeholder participation. The Virginia Gas and Oil Association Industry (VOGA) initiated this process in 2013 by petitioning DMME to require disclosure so “that all chemicals used for fracing by Virginia’s natural gas and oil industries will be fully disclosed and available to the public.” VOGA stated that industry “want[s] to be totally transparent.”
  • A wholesale exemption from the Freedom of Information Act would automatically place trade secret information in a permanent “black box” that no citizen can access. This would happen without any consideration of risks to public health or the environment, and it flies in the face of industry’s stated intent to be “totally transparent.”
  • DMME’s recently amended oil and gas regulations do not address FOIA. They deal only with how DMME handles trade secret information.
     
  • A FOIA exemption would mean:
    • Localities, those responsible for emergency preparedness, and first responders could not access the information needed to prepare an emergency response – they must wait until the emergency is happening.
    • Landowners concerned about the chemicals used in fracking operations near their drinking water wells could not access the information.
    • Any FOIA discussion must address the significant interests of all stakeholders who participated in the regulatory process, including protection of: (1) Public Health, (2) the Environment and Natural Resources, and (3) Drillers’ interest in trade secret information.

SB 1291 was passed over in the the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee to the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee and is scheduled to be heard next week. This is a big SUCCESS. Thank You to everyone who reached out to their elected officials!


Background Information:

  • Across the country, there have long been concerns about the chemicals injected underground in fracking operations, the risks to public health and the environment, and the widespread lack of public access to information. Public access to this information is vital.
  • Peer-reviewed studies link fracking chemicals to a variety of health concerns including respiratory and neurological problems, several cancers, and endocrine disruption linked to cancers, infertility, and birth defects. 
  • A 2016 EPA report documents scientific evidence showing that fracking can lead – and has led – to water contamination that, in some cases, renders private drinking water wells totally unusable.
  • A 2016 Stanford study links fracking to underground drinking water contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming, and suggests that fracking chemicals contaminated the entire groundwater resource in the natural gas basin.  

Drilling and fracking fluids migrate underground. In Virginia, DMME Complaint Number 469 in Buchanan County found that a nearby drilling operation diminished the water quality of a landowner’s drinking well.  

 

For more information please contact Bryan Hofmann bryan.hofmann@riverfriends.org