Local residents and community activists joined environmental and social justice groups to call for a comprehensive study and review of state oil and gas drilling standards, including regulations governing fracking, on Monday during a press conference led by Virginia Organizing and the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter. The press conference was held in response to the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations, Inc. – also known as Stronger – panel’s meetings on Virginia’s standards, which they claim are inadequate to protect public health and safety.
The groups stressed that, due to the state’s weak standards, the risks are too great at present for new forms of fracking to occur safely, and that a comprehensive review must take place before allowing permits for new forms of fracking to be issued. The Stronger review, the groups argued, is too limited to adequately protect Virginians. Fracking has led to serious harm to human and animal health as well as contamination of air and water in other states.
“The Stronger process and the DMME’s partial review of state regulations are both inadequate to protect Virginians’ from the dangers of fracking,” Corrina Beall, Legislative and Political Director of the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, said. “We need a comprehensive review and significant revisions to our standards to ensure public health and safety. No new permits should be issued until this has taken place.”
The Stronger process is not a statutorily binding one, and will merely be reviewing and updating a previous review conducted twelve years ago, in 2004.
“The opportunity for a comprehensive review, which allows all interested parties to participate, was during the regulatory advisory process,” Ruby Brabo, At-Large Supervisor for King George County, said. “It is most unfortunate that the Department of Mines Minerals and Energy did not allow a comprehensive review of the regulations to take place at that time. It is imperative that all interested parties be able to trust the process and feel their voices are represented and their concerns are heard. I am thankful that local government has been afforded a seat at the table but I do empathize with those who do not feel they have a representative participating in the discussion.”
Several localities including Washington, Westmoreland and King George counties have attempted to address concerns about fracking themselves, due to weak state standards that they fear will not protect their residents. The Department of Mines Minerals and Energy has conducted a partial review of Virginia’s regulations, with some changes expected later this year.
Environmental groups have pointed out serious shortcomings with the partial review and called for a comprehensive review of risks to public health and the environment, similar to reviews previously conducted in Maryland and New York. Some of these shortcomings include the use of open air fracking waste storage pits, the areas allowed for disposal of fracking wastewater and a failure to prohibit drilling through drinking aquifers used for drinking water.
“Many of the most serious risks of fracking are to human health,” Bill Johnson, Conservation Chair, Rappahannock Group of the Sierra Club, said. “Someone with public health expertise should be reviewing Virginia’s regulations. A more thorough review should be conducted, and should rely on public health professionals with expertise in the health issues associated with shale gas fracking operations.”
Stronger, Inc. is funded through grants from organizations including the American Petroleum Institute and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. Stronger is reviewing the Commonwealth’s drilling regulations for four days, beginning today, at the request of the DMME.
“We can’t trust the oil and gas drillers to regulate themselves,” Karen Shaffer, a local Virginia Organizing Chapter member, said. “It is essential for Virginia’s regulations to reflect the latest scientific and medical research results revealing the risks to human health by modern fracking. I am a resident of Washington County, and I want our state’s regulations to be thoroughly reviewed and updated before any new permits are considered.”