Just over 84,000 acres in the Rappahannock River watershed is leased for potential gas and oil drilling. Friends of the Rappahannock and our conservation partners are working to understand the potential impact on the region’s communities, economy and natural resources, particularly water quality, from the controversial drilling practice known as hydrofracturing. To start, we mapped the leases in five counties – Caroline, Essex, King and Queen, Westmoreland and King George.

 Do You Have Questions About Hydrofracturing? The tidal Rappahannock River watershed lies within a shale resource known as the Taylorsville Basin, after an ancient lake. Drilling by hydrofracturing uses high pressure to force millions of gallons of water, some sand and toxic chemicals a mile or more underground to break up shale rock and release gas or oil. This process is completely different from Virginia’s more traditional gas drilling or the horizontal wells in some southwest Virginia counties. Hydrofracturing wells create an industrial zone in rural areas, with heavy truck traffic, large holding ponds filled with waste fluid, gas flaring/venting that sounds like a jet taking off and 24-hour lights, noise and fumes during drilling. Accidents, spills, leaks and improper wastewater disposal has contaminated water in Pennsylvania and West Virginia communities with intense shale drilling. 

Can We Address Potential ImpactsThe Virginia Oil & Gas Act prohibits local governments from banning or placing a moratorium on energy development. But counties in the Taylorsville Basin can provide significant oversight on the location, pace and scale of shale drilling if they update their land use plans and zoning ordinances. The state also requires special provisions for drilling in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and for the massive groundwater withdrawals needed to serve shale wells.In addition, local governments can learn more about the high cost to public services (and the taxpayer) and traditional rural economic sectors from shale drilling in other communities. 

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