State protections questioned as industry-funded review gets underway
ABINGDON, Virginia – Local residents and community activists will join environmental and social justice groups to call for a comprehensive study and review of state oil and gas drilling standards, including regulations governing fracking, on Monday during a press conference led by Virginia Organizing and the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter. The press conference will occur in response to the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations, Inc. – also known as Stronger – panel’s procedural review of Virginia’s standards.
The groups will assert that the risks are too great in Virginia at present for new forms of fracking to occur safely, and a comprehensive review must take place before allowing permits for new forms of fracking to be issued. The Stronger review, the groups will argue, is too limited to adequately protect Virginians. Fracking has led to serious harm to human and animal health, and contamination of air and water in other states.
Several localities including Washington, Westmoreland and King George counties have attempted to address concerns about fracking themselves, due to weak state standards. The Department of Mines Minerals and Energy has conducted a partial review of Virginia’s regulations, with some changes expected later this year. Environmental groups have pointed out serious shortcomings with the partial review and called for a comprehensive review of risks to public health and the environment, similar to reviews previously conducted in Maryland and New York.
Stronger, Inc. is funded through grants from organizations including the American Petroleum Institute and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. Stronger will reviewVirginia’s draft drilling regulations for four days, beginningMonday, at the request of the DMME.
WHERE: Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center (One Partnership Circle, Abingdon, Virginia 24210)
WHEN: Monday, August 8, at 12:30 p.m.
Karen Shaffer, Washington County resident
Ruby Brabo, King George Board of Supervisors
Corrina Beall, Legislative & Political Director of Virginia Chapter Sierra Club
VISUALS: More than a dozen activists and supporters assembled outside of the Stronger meeting.
Gas companies are eyeing opportunities for fracking in at least two areas of Virginia: Marcellus Shale deposits in the western part of the state, and the Taylorsville Basin in the Fredericksburg area stretching south, east of Interstate 95. While no permits for fracking have been granted yet in the Taylorsville Basin region, more than 80,000 acres have been leased with the intent to frack. New, riskier fracking techniques seen in other states would be new to Virginia. Environmental advocates and community leaders have pointed to existing state standards to show Virginia is not prepared, and have called for a comprehensive study of the public health and environmental risks of fracking and a full review of existing regulations.
The state Department of Mines Minerals and Energy (DMME) started a process to revise Virginia’s fracking standards in late 2013. However, in conducting the review of its standards, DMME chose to focus on only a handful of issues including requiring disclosure of fracking fluid ingredients, limited baseline testing of groundwater, well integrity, requiring submission of an emergency response plan and requiring fences around open storage pits. While these changes improve upon existing standards, numerous shortcomings remain, putting our environment and public health at risk. No review at all is scheduled for the impacts of fracking on the health of residents nor on the impact on the environment.
Concerns about DMME’s draft standards include:
- Open air fracking waste storage pits should be prohibited.
- Disposing of fracking wastewater by spreading it on agricultural or forest land should be prohibited.
- The standard should provide substantial setbacks from gas wells and infrastructure to protect springs, rivers, lakes, streams, flood plains, parks, playgrounds, schools, hospitals, and other important natural and community resources.
- Drilling through drinking water aquifers should be prohibited.
- Drilling companies must have plans approved for thoroughly and safely testing, labeling, transporting, and disposing of drilling waste. Drilling waste must not simply be buried at the well site, as the draft standard would allow in western Virginia.
- Using injection waste wells should be prohibited in seismically active parts of Virginia due to earthquake risks. Injection wells should also be prohibited within 100 miles of nuclear power plants due to the definitive link between injection wells and earthquakes, which have been shown to increase the number and severity of earthquakes.
- The standard should address serious air pollution risks, including methane leaks, from wells and related infrastructure.
The Stronger panel’s review will be limited in scope to existing regulations, and will not cover draft regulations promulgated by DMME.