Policy: Environment & Energy

Panel reviewing Va. natural gas drilling rules

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Local,Virginia,Energy and Environment,Natural Gas

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A panel reviewing Virginia's rules on hydraulic fracking for natural gas devoted much of its first meeting Wednesday to discussing the chemicals used in the process.

The advisory panel grappled with the question of how much energy companies should be required to disclose about the chemicals they inject at high pressure into shale and rock formations to dislodge gas and oil. Water and sand is also used. Chemical disclosure varies widely from state to state.

The meeting convened by the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy was just a first step in developing new drilling rules for the process, but the review comes with hydraulic fracking expected to shift to a new frontier in Virginia.

Thousands of wells have been drilled in Virginia's Coalfields region for natural gas, but the estimated 1 trillion cubic feet of the resource in the Taylorsville Basin could see well pads dotting the landscape of the state's coastal plain.

A Dallas energy company, Shore Oil and Exploration Corp., has leased approximately 84,000 acres in five counties in the Fredericksburg area. The company has said it hopes to start drilling by 2015.

The prospect of injecting a mix of chemicals into an area near the Chesapeake Bay has raised concerns among local officials.

Eric Gregory, county attorney for King George County and a member of the panel, said there are many unanswered questions about drilling's impact on "ground water, its impact on surface water, its impact on the visual aspects of the county."

"There's a laundry list," he said after the meeting. "We're trying to get our hands around it."

Gregory said emergency responders, for instance, want to know the full array of chemicals used in drilling so they can respond appropriately in the event of an accident. While some drilling companies will provide a list of chemicals, they won't reveal precise recipes used in drilling.

Gregory wondered if the companies could confidentially provide that information to emergency responders to ensure their trade secrets are not revealed.

M. Ann Neil Cosby, an attorney representing Caroline County who also sits on the advisory panel, said "more disclosure is better than less."

"Chemical mixtures can have different impacts," she said. "If there's a legitimate reason they should be disclosed, I would say absolutely."

Kevin Elkins is a general manager with CNX Gas, the biggest producer in the state, and a member of the Virginia Oil and Gas Association. He also sits on the advisory board.

"I think the industry supports full disclosure, but they also understand that companies have proprietary ingredients and formulas so there has to be a balance," Elkins said.

Asked if the industry would share the information with emergency responders on a confidential basis, he said, "I think so."

The advisory panel scheduled its next meeting for July. It is expected to make its recommendations to the DMME in August, but that date could be moved back.

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Steve Szkotak can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sszkotakap

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