Written by Emily Francis on behalf of the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) and Friends of the Rappahannock

An increasing number of communities around the United States are being rushed to decide whether drilling for natural gas using high-volume hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling is compatible with their community’s vision. Let’s not rush that decision in Virginia.

High-volume hydraulic fracturing is a drilling technique where millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals are forced—under very high pressures—underground to break up rock and release captured oil or gas. Horizontal drilling is a technique where a drill turns 90 degrees and runs parallel to the surface of the ground, allowing greater access to rock horizontally. By combining high-volume hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling, we are presented with today’s high-volume fracking boom. Oil and gas companies are using these techniques to recover gas and oil that was previously unreachable with conventional drilling methods.

Modern fracking is an intense industrial activity. In the Marcellus Shale region in Pennsylvania, an average well uses 4.2 million gallons of water each time it is fracked. That water is delivered by the truckload resulting in thousands of truck trips along rural roads—a single heavy truck causes the same amount of road damage as 9,000 cars. Once the frack water returns to the surface, it is a waste byproduct held in open pits nearby until it is trucked offsite, adding more wear and tear to local roads. Each fracked well must be connected to gathering gas pipelines, which connect to compressor stations. These miles of pipelines cut across properties and visually dissect rural communities. Noise pollution and light pollution are also a serious concern for residents living in communities near fracking sites. These industrial operations run twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week.

 

Contamination of groundwater anFracking Well Cartoon.jpgd surface water are significant concerns that must be addressed before high-volume fracking begins in Virginia. The negative community impacts to local residents and local governments must also be addressed.

Specifically:
• Contaminated wastewater from fracking sites must be managed safely;
• Air pollution from wells and compressor stations must be minimized;
• Erosion and sediment control standards must be enforced; and
• All chemicals used during fracking must be disclosed.

Recommendations:

Before permitting any new wells using high volume hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling, the Commonwealth should undertake a comprehensive study to investigate the impacts that this new drilling technology has on public health, local economies, and the environment. Additionally, robust regulations should be developed that account for the significant differences between modern fracking and conventional drilling. These regulations should effectively protect residents and their property from the damaging impacts of fracking. Residents, communities, and state regulators must have critical information prior to deciding if and how to proceed with high-volume fracking in Virginia. As of now, there are too many questions about the impacts of this industrial activity.

For additional information please visit: http://www.vcnva.org/images/AnnualBriefingBook/BriefingBook2015_Website.pdf

 

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