The Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy plans hearings on regulations for the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of natural gas, which could clear the way for drilling in coastal areas of the state near Fredericksburg, including the Northern and Middle necks.
New rules were proposed last year by a state agency. While natural gas has been produced for many years in southwest Virginia, fracking for gas in the eastern part of the state would be new. There are no state regulations in place.
Unlike traditional gas drilling, fracking involves horizontal drilling and the use of large quantities of water with powerful chemicals to reach hard-to-get pockets of gas.
Texas-based Shore Exploration and Production Co. has been on a leasing spree during the last several years. By 2014, it had bought leases to more than 84,000 acres of land from Caroline to Westmoreland counties. The areas are near sensitive waters of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
Fracking has been controversial because of concerns about how it might affect ground water as well as the noise and local disruption caused by drilling units. But the drilling method has resulted in a flood of gas, resulting in drops in gas prices. It also has shored up the country’s position as a major petroleum producer.
One factor that might mitigate drilling in coastal Virginia is that with gas prices so low, the pace of fracking has slowed and fewer wells are being drilled because of the expense.
The hearings on the rules will be held in Richmond and Fredericksburg.