, 2015

Former Del. Pollard suggests
localities take a ‘conservative’
approach to hydrofracturing

by Renss Greene

WARSAW—Former Del. Albert Pollard of White Stone on February 12 briefed the Northern Neck Soil and Water Conservation District board on the topic of hydrofracturing, or “fracking,” in eastern Virginia.

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Pollard and Friends of the Rappahannock steward Richard Moncure gave an introduction to the possible dangers of fracking, how to deal with Texas-based Shore Exploration & Production Corporation which is leasing land in the Northern Neck and how localities can protect themselves.

Pollard and Moncure warned localities not to rely on federal and state regulations to deal with the fracking issue.

“Do not rely on state and federal regulations to just ‘take care of it,’” Pollard said.

“State and federal regulation might protect groundwater, but they don’t even claim to address noise, traffic, road damage, setbacks, hours of operation, gas flaring, and other such things,” he added. “And I believe that local communities need to compare the reward with the size of the risk.”

Moncure described the subject of fracking as a complex issue.

“I’m sure we all have several questions at this point, and that’s the takeaway point here,” Moncure said. “Don’t let anybody come into a room and say, ‘hey, this is a simple process, we’re going to go down through here and get what you need.’ There are a lot of questions. This is an evolving technology.”

Inland parts of the Northern Neck sit over the Taylorsville basin shale deposit, an ancient lake bed stretching from Richmond to Maryland, which Moncure reports has been estimated to contain enough oil and gas to power Virginia for two-and-a-half years by the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy. Nearly 85,000 acres of land have been leased for drilling by Shore Corporation, which Pollard and Moncure say can present a challenge for local government.

In fracking the Taylorsville Basin in the Northern Neck, companies drill through and beneath the Potomac aquifer, then up to a mile horizontally. Explosives are sent into the well to crack up the oil-rich shale deposits, then liquids such as water, diesel, or liquid nitrogen are pumped into the well to bring up gas or oil. Many of the chemicals companies are pumping into the ground are trade secrets and unknown to the public, according to Pollard and Moncure.

“It’s an industrial use in a rural agricultural area,” Pollard said. “That doesn’t mean that it can’t be compatible, but it means it has to be thought out.” He told the board well pads can take up prime agricultural soil, be an eyesore and source of 24-hour noise, strain local infrastructure, and put a strain on water levels in the Potomac aquifer.

“Right now, you’ve got people from Shore Oil who I believe are good people, who I believe are dealing in good faith, but their fiduciary responsibility is not to water quality, it’s not to our local quality of life,” Pollard said. “Their fiduciary responsibility is to their investors.”

In addition, Pollard said the standard lease agreement is transferrable, meaning the rights in the lease can be sold.

“In other words, the 84 thousand to 85 thousand acres that are leased can be bundled up and sold to a Wall Street hedge firm, for instance,” Pollard said. “Or they could be sold to a Texaco or an Exxon, which would be a more responsible player than a hedge fund.”

“When somebody comes in from Wall Street, they don’t give a cuss about when the trucks are running, whether or not it’s holding up school bus traffic, whether or not they’re running the trucks during freeze/thaw time and tearing up local roads,” he added.

The presentation suggested localities in eastern Virginia take several steps to mitigate the risks. First, Pollard and Moncure suggested local boards pass resolutions asking the state to launch a comprehensive study of oil and gas drilling before approving oil or gas wells. Secondly, they said, local land use plans should guide the siting, pace, and scale of shale drilling. Third, zoning ordinances should be updated, and finally, communities should measure the economic impacts of oil and gas drilling.

Pollard and Moncure also had some suggestions for negotiating with oil companies.

“If the land man comes calling, take control of the negotiations,” Pollard said. “Don’t sign any documents or take any checks until you educate yourself on everything.” He urged landowners to get leases that include requirements for more recent technology, that require the landowner to be paid royalties for all products that the company extracts and sells, and that landowners insist on audit privileges to keep oil companies honest.

“I do not think that it has to be an either/or,” Pollard said. “I do think that the Northern Neck is very smart, being prudent, going slowly, making sure other states have done it right.”

“One of the things that I enjoyed about representing the Northern Neck in the General Assembly is that the Northern Neck is a conservative place, not in the way of like, one party or the other party conservative,” Pollard said. “It’s conservative in the Virginia tradition of let’s go slow, get all the facts, figure out what all the repercussions are and the unintended consequences are, then we make a decision. An ounce of prevention is certainly worth a pound of cure.”a

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