2014 has been a busy year atop the Taylorsville Basin, an ancient shale deposit formed millions of years ago, and now miles below our feet in the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula. The Taylorsville Basin spans Caroline, King George, Westmoreland, Essex and King and Queen counties, deep beneath the very heart of the Rappahannock River watershed.  Dallas-based Shore Exploration and Production Corp. has leased gas and oil rights over approximately 84,000 acres in the Taylorsville Basin.

To keep pace with these rapid developments, Friends of the Rappahannock is working with Taylorsville Partners, a unique coalition of conservation-minded individuals and organizations, including the Southern Environmental Law Center, Shenandoah Valley Network, Virginia League of Conservation Voters, Caroline County Countryside Alliance and Essex County Countryside Alliance. Over the past 12 months, this group has worked with state agencies, local officials, leaseholders and neighbors to shed light on potential concerns of industrial-scale oil and gas drilling, commonly called “fracking.”

“This isn’t a ‘for or against’ discussion about fracking,” said Albert Pollard, a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates. “This is about the community coming together and having a discussion, so our future will be decided by shared values and vision, and not by outside special interests.”  Pollard has been a feature of the Taylorsville Partners’ “Frac 101” campaign, an educational presentation offered to church groups, community organizations, and neighborhood meetings in the Taylorsville region.  This year, Pollard and FOR have held 16 meetings with more than 400 attendees, ranging from leaseholders to county supervisors.

The Partners have worked closely with the region’s elected officials to share information about each locality’s concerns and protections they can seek. Holly Harmon is a local wetlands board member and owner of Montross Art of Coffee. She said, “Of course, we are all aware of the hazards this industry poses to our drinking water and the Potomac Aquifer. But what about our rural character and our natural capital, like these fields and our rivers? Do we realize everything that is at risk here?”

Decisions about county protections can be made at the local board level and Taylorsville Partners has been sharing information that can help mitigate the impacts of fracking, using tools such as appropriate Comprehensive Plan language and Zoning Ordinances. “We’ve seen these situations in West Virginia and North Carolina, where states are scrambling to address the concerns after a disaster,” said Rosemary Mahan, Westmoreland County Supervisor. “We need to review all aspects of this complex and evolving energy industry before any drilling occurs.”

To date, no applications for drilling permits have been received by any localities atop the Taylorsville Basin, but Shore Exploration has expressed its desire to begin drilling in 2015.

Taylorsville Partners has also been working with Tidewater localities to pass resolutions requesting the Governor of Virginia, the Secretary of Commerce and Trade and the Secretary of Natural Resources review the environmental, economic, transportation, and regulatory issues pertaining to oil and gas drilling in Tidewater. Essex County and Westmoreland County have each passed a resolution requesting the comprehensive study.

For more information on Taylorsville Partners, visit www.riverfriends.org/fracking.  For information about hosting a “Frac 101” in the Taylorsville Basin, contact Richard Moncure at (804) 443-3448 or e-mail Richard.moncure@riverfriends.org

By Richard Moncure, FOR Tidal River Steward

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