Monday, February 6, 2012

With Deep Concerns Over Fracking a Virginia County Says No to More Gas Drilling by Darryl Fears

Carrizo Oil and Gas had every reason to believe this rustic town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains was an ideal place to build Virginia’s first well to explore for natural gas in the state’s Marcellus Shale.

Carrizo liked Bergton’s location — eight miles from the West Virginia border, not far from where other operations are extracting gas. Carrizo bet that gas was locked in the shale under the town and put up tens of thousands of dollars for landowner leases as collateral.

All it needed to start the job was a special land-use permit from the four Republicans and one Democrat on Rockingham County’s Board of Supervisors. 

Carrizo didn’t even come close. Concerned about controversial drilling methods, the supervisors never voted on the permit, and recently the company shelved its application following a two-year pursuit, ending its immediate hopes of exploring for gas.

The rejection in Rockingham County was yet another hard knock against companies trying to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale closest to Washington. Negative publicity about water contamination at drilling sites in the Chesapeake Bay region and out west in Texas, Wyoming and Oklahoma is raising concern even among those who support gas exploration.

Virginia has 7,700 natural gas wells in operation, but none extracts gas from the rich Marcellus — a prehistoric shale formation that runs from Ohio to lower Virginia and entombs one of the most bountiful gas reserves in the world, according to the Energy Information Administration. No other company has approached Virginia since Carrizo abandoned its permit application.

Maryland has also slammed the brakes on gas exploration. Last March, the O’Malley administration put off decisions on two permit applications to search for gas in the Marcellus under Garrett County until the completion of an exhaustive study next year. The state wants to know if a hydraulic fracturing process known as fracking, which uses high pressure blasts of water mixed with a chemical cocktail to break the rock and unlock the gas, is safe.
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