Environmental groups warned Caroline County residents about the consequences of drilling for natural gas during a Dec. 11 meeting in Bowling Green.
The workshop was put on by Friends of the Rappahannock (FOR) and the Caroline County Countryside Alliance to provide information about environmental concerns related to a proposal by a Texas oil company to drill for oil and natural gas on the eastern side of Caroline County.
Apparently, the workshop troubled some residents. Some left while uttering comments such as, “What a mess.” One said, “It’s scary.” Others said, “It’s all about the money.” Several residents wondered aloud when the next meeting will be, and someone else asked, “How many (county) supervisors were here?”
Shore Exploration and Production Company has plans to extract oil and natural gas through a process known has hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”
“Horizontal drilling technology, known as hydrofracking or fracking, uses high pressure to force millions of gallons of water, some sand and chemicals a mile or more underground to break up shale rock and release gas or oil,” FOR representatives have said.
Leases for gas and oil drilling in Caroline County cover over 40,733 acres, nearly half of the total of 84,390 acres leased in the region since 2010, according to a search of county courthouse records this summer, said FOR Executive Director John Tippett in a news release.
“We’re getting questions about what leasing means for landowners and the community. The workshop is designed so that landowners and others can learn more before they have to make any decisions,” Tippett said in a new release.
The president of the oil company, Stan Sherrill, has said that his company has done test drill sites on property along U.S. 301, close to the Luck Stone quarry. Evidence of oil has been found from these test sites, and the company could be looking at operating oil wells as early as 2015.
Sherrill has argued that this could be a substantial financial benefit to Caroline. Because of the 3 percent severance tax allowed by the state to the county, this could mean “millions of dollars every year for Caroline County,” he noted.
“Neither the Friends of The Rappannnock nor the Caroline County Countryside Alliance have taken a position, pro-frack, nor anti-frack,” Tippett said. “We’re here to educate.”
Speaking at the meeting was Gwen Lachelt, a Colorado commissioner with 25 years of experience in working with communities subject to oil drilling. She presented the audience with information about the consequences of oil and gas drilling by fracking.
The town hall meeting room was packed wall-to-wall with concerned residents and public officials. Many of those in attendance were landowners in Caroline who have either signed leases to allow drilling on their property or they have property adjacent to potential future oil field.
One major issue for landowners is the concern that oil and gas development on their land will negatively affect their property values. Lachelt told the attentive audience that is a legitimate concern. A survey done in 2012 in her Colorado County of La Plata showed that “property values declined an average of 22 percent with a well on the land.” Surveys done in Wyoming showed an average decline of 50 percent, and Texas property values went down by 75 percent.
Other concerns for county residents include heavy truck traffic around well sites that create dust, impact roads, and make noise. There is also concern for livestock and pets that may come in contact with or even drink out of fracking pits, which contain many potentially harmful chemicals. These are concerns that are valid and have affected residents of localities where fracking occurs.
Lachelt also covered some of the things that have been done to minimize the impacts of oil and gas development, which include legislation enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:
“It really leaves state and local government on the hook to regulate the development,” Lachelt said. “I really encourage companies to work hand-in-hand with communities.”
Examples of county regulations concerning gas and oil development include set back distances, minimizing the footprint by way of pads and roads, and a memorandum of understanding with individual operators.
Road and well impact fines have also been enforced, as have fencing of facilities, electrification, and green completions—a process by which the excess natural gas is captured and reused as opposed to flaring or allowing the gas to escape and cause pollution.
When it comes to the landowners, another thing that has worked well to minimize the impacts of site developments, according to Lachelt, is the adoption of special field rules to handle unique circumstances. Examples of this are the Colorado Landowners Protection Act, and the New Mexico Surface Owners Protection Act.
“These reforms were hard fought and were led by gas-field residents who came together and organized,” said Lachelt, “What I say everywhere I go is: take a deep breath, and never, ever, ever sign the documents that the landman gives you.”
Rick Parish, an attorney representing the Southern Environmental Law Center, addressed the more law-centered concerns, and gave a history on how the regulations for oil and gas drilling have been subject to change throughout the years.
Albert Pollard, a former member of the General Assembly noted, “The one law that always comes back to bite you is the law of unintended consequence.” Pollard encouraged residents to ask questions concerning the process and its repercussions.
“Make sure that as a community, you think everything through all the way,” Pollard told the audience.
Residents had many concerns and questions after the presentation had concluded. Some of the questions and statements of residents went unheard during the forum due to shortage of time. Representatives of both groups and the speakers stayed after the workshop to answer questions on a more informal level.
One Caroline resident wanted to know if the regulations that were presented earlier worked with development of wells and fracking. Lachelt responded that yes, “they have been working to a great extent,” but that “the industry is really self-policing. It really is the honor system.”
Another question was posed to address whether or not side drilling could occur on properties adjacent to land with wells. Pollard noted that while drilling underneath the property is not legal, seepage may occur and the affected landowner would have to be compensated.
Other questions were: Is drilling permitted on federal land such as A.P. Hill? Are the waste products and chemicals from the fracking sites dumped into landfills? The answer to both was yes.