Rockingham County, Virginia Rejects Fracking

One Virginia county has become the latest to put a halt to any proposed hydraulic fracturing (fracking) drilling.

According to a report from The Washington Post over the weekend, supervisors in Rockingham County never voted on proposed special-use land permits submitted by Carrizo Oil and Gas, a company which had eyes on opening several fracking wells in Virginia’s small share of the massive Marcellus shale bed. The supervisors worry any fracking drilling in their portion of the state could result in localized water and air pollution, as has been experienced in neighboring states.

Virginia is the southernmost state atop the Marcellus shale formation. Rockingham County abuts the West Virginia border and Carrizo’s permits for proposed fracking wells were just a few miles from active wells in the neighboring state. Last week, when presented with an opportunity to vote on proposed drilling permits from Carrizo, supervisors balked and tabled the idea for another day. Carrizo, according to the report, has already spent tens of thousands of dollars acquiring lease rights from private landowners with hopes hanging on a local government vote which would allow the company to attempt to extract natural gas from the shale formation a couple miles below the surface.

Carrizo had hoped to tap into the reserves believed held in the Marcellus shale formation. Fracking wells have been opened in every state situated atop the shale bed, believed to contain more than $3 trillion in natural gas reserves. Fracking is also used to extract oil from underground rock. The controversial process involves the use of a long, underground well that stretches until it reaches the underground rock. A drill along with thousands of gallons of water, sand and a mix of more than 600 chemicals are ushered through the well until it reaches the rock, breaking it apart and releasing natural gas or oil. In the Marcellus shale formation, energy companies are chasing natural gas. The process is used to get oil from rock in other parts of the country.

There are currently no active wells in Virginia’s portion of the Marcellus shale. Maryland is considering allowing fracking drilling but thousands of wells have been opened or are proposed in other Mid Atlantic states, mostly in Pennsylvania, which occupies the largest part of the shale. There, residents believe fracking drilling has put natural resources in danger, potentially of being contaminated forever. Fracking is also believed to be putting a strain on fresh water reserves as it uses hundreds of thousands of gallons of water per day per well. Additionally, the state has not proven the ability to effectively remove the toxins from fracking waste water.

More of an immediate concern is the harm fracking drilling is causing those living closest to it. While the energy industry believes fracking is a way of weening the nation from foreign oil and its exploration can stimulate local economies, those closest to the wells don’t believe the benefits are worth the risks.

People living within a mile of active fracking wells face a great risk suffering water well contamination, mostly with methane gas. Some Pennsylvanians believe their tap water also contains other toxins, like diesel fuel and other carcinogens, and fracking is to blame. For some residents, water has been contaminated to the point it can’t be used and some families have been forced to cap their water wells and find alternative sources for fresh water.

In West Virginia, fracking is also believed to be responsible for a spate of earthquakes as drillers have taken to disposing of waste drilling fluid in underground wells.

Carrizo’s failure to gain permits to frack the Marcellus shale have put a halt to any other company’s pursuit of similar efforts in the state, the Washington Post reports. The state has allowed other gas wells to be opened, but none in the shale formation.

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