State Capitol of Virginia white buildingMARCH 17, 2020 -The Virginia General Assembly is set to ban hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking, in the eastern part of the state. This legislation received extensive support and now protects the communities and natural resources of the lower Rappahannock River region from water contamination. This success comes after many years of work from a committed coalition of conservation partners and elected officials. 

“Virginians in the eastern part of the state spoke up about the threat that fracking would pose to their drinking water, clean rivers, and communities.” said Kristin Davis, senior attorney with Southern Environmental Law Center.

The bill, SB106 introduced by Sen. Scott Surovell, will ban fracking  east of Interstate 95. This will protect the drinking-water sources for a wide swath of the state, including the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck. The bill has passed the House and Senate with broad bipartisan support and is headed to Gov. Ralph Northam for his signature.

“This bill represents one of the most forward thinking and seminal protections of water quality for the Rappahannock River region,” said Bryan Hofmann, Friends of the Rappahannock (FOR) Deputy Director. 

Fracking is a method of extracting natural gas from underground rock formations. The fluids and chemicals injected into the earth to force out the gas can contaminate aquifers and other sources of drinking water, pollute our creeks and streams via stormwater, and transform our rural communities into industrial work zones. This is not consistent with a healthy and scenic Rappahannock River.

Since 2014, fracking has been an issue of concern throughout the Tidewater region of Virginia after an energy exploration company leased 84,000 acres of land in the Taylorsville Basin with the intent to engage in fracking. The basin which runs east of I-95 from Southern Maryland to the City of Richmond, is located underneath portions of the Potomac Aquifer, which serves as the source of drinking water for millions of people as well as a source of irrigation for agriculture in the region. 

Due to the inherent risks associated with fracking and the concentration of leased acres, American Rivers listed the Rappahannock River on its 10 most endangered rivers list in 2017. Fracking in the Basin could permanently degrade the health of these surface and groundwater resources that so many people depend on. That is why this bill and associated policy reforms is so important.

“This bill builds on critical improvements made to Virginia’s statewide oil and gas regulations a few years ago to help protect water quality. Change can happen when Virginians speak out,” Davis said. 

This success would not be possible without the support of Senator Surovell, Senator Stuart, and the many partners who worked tirelessly on this issue: Southern Environmental Law Center, Virginia League of Conservation Voters, Virginia Conservation Network, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, Potomac RiverKeeper Network, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Caroline Countryside Alliance, Essex County Conservation Alliance, King George County, Westmoreland County, Richmond County, and many more.

“This has been a long campaign for clean water and healthy communities.” said Hofmann “We are grateful for the leadership of Senator’s Surovell and Stuart and for the long time support of all our partners.” 

For more information on FOR’s work on fracking advocacy, please visit www.riverfriends.org/fracking