Fracking in the Southeast

Threat to Clean Water: Fracking operations have been linked to polluted rivers, streams, and contaminated well water.


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Fracking threat puts Rappahannock on list of nation’s most endangered rivers More »

The Rappahannock River is among America’s Most Endangered Rivers, based on a report released today by American Rivers. The designation shines a national spotlight on the threat fracking poses to clean drinking water and the state’s irreplaceable natural heritage.

There are currently approximately 85,000 acres in five counties leased for oil and gas development and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) along the tidal Rappahannock and many of its tributaries. Four out of five of these counties currently lack local ordinances or protections to safeguard clean water supplies and public health from fracking operations.

Fracking is a highly industrial activity that has drastic impacts on local communities. Contamination of groundwater and surface water is a significant concern because, as an increasing body of research confirms, industrial gas development with fracking can— and does— contaminate water.

“We encourage local citizens and officials to think long and hard about if, or how, they will allow fracking in their backyards,” said SELC attorney Kristin Davis. “A recent EPA report–based on the most complete examination to date of scientific data–documents that fracking can lead to water contamination, reduced water quality, and declining water levels. The good news is that Virginia communities have the power to protect their waters from these risks, whether they choose to do that through stringent restrictions or prohibiting gas development and fracking altogether.”

American Rivers and its partners are calling on residents and local governments in Westmoreland, Essex, Caroline, and King and Queen Counties to decide whether this new industry has a place in their communities and then establish local land use ordinances to protect the Rappahannock River and Potomac Aquifer from drilling and fracking. Thanks to SELC’s work with Friends of the Rappahannock, there has been progress in King George County, Virginia, through the successful passage of local ordinances that require a 750-foot buffer from fracking-related activities around all streams, wetlands, rivers, buildings, drinking water wells and public roads.

In addition, American Rivers is calling on the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate to uphold Virginia’s new drilling regulations that help protect rivers and clean drinking water from industrial gas development.

Virginia’s General Assembly must also maintain local land use authority over gas development and fracking.

“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers that face a critical decision in the next year,” said Jessie Thomas-Blate with American Rivers. “County and state leaders must act now in order to ensure that the Rappahannock River and the state’s clean water supplies are protected from irreversible harm by any future fracking operations.”

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SELC Takes on Hydraulic Fracturing for Natural Gas

Gas development using hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"), which entails injecting huge quantities of water and chemicals into the ground, has the potential to radically transform the Southeast. While SELC supports cleaner alternative energy sources such as natural gas that will help move our region away from coal, we strongly object to the destructive ways natural gas is now being extracted—and to the lack of environmental oversight.

As pressure mounts to tap into southeastern shale deposits, SELC is working on multiple fronts in our six states to prevent fracking in special natural areas like our national forests, and to keep or put tough regulatory safeguards in place. 

North Carolina  

SELC continues to raise awareness of the North Carolina legislature’s efforts to remove drilling and fracking protections. In recent years, the legislature has lifted a moratorium on fracking before new regulations were in place, passed a law to prevent local oversight of gas drilling, and made it a crime to disclose the chemicals used in the fracking process. SELC is challenging the constitutionality of North Carolina’s Mining and Energy Commission and has secured an injunction that suspends, for now, the permitting of natural gas extraction in the state, creating a de facto moratorium on fracking in North Carolina. 


One of our highest priorities in Virginia has been to keep fracking out of the George Washington National Forest. As a result of a multi-year effort led by SELC and the Shenandoah Valley Network, with support from a broad group of allies, in late 2014 the U.S. Forest Service announced it would place nearly all of the 1.1 million-acre George Washington National Forest off-limits to shale gas drilling and fracking. This decision protects the many existing uses and values of this special forest.

SELC and our local partners are also championing strong local standards and oversight of drilling in eastern Virginia’s Taylorsville Basin, where a company has obtained gas and oil leases on more than 80,000 acres just miles from the Chesapeake Bay, and were part of a stakeholder process to develop new fracking protections approved by Governor McAuliffe in 2016.


Tennessee’s environmental agency has established oil and gas drilling regulations, but they do not go nearly far enough to protect water and wildlife. SELC’s continues to advocate for full disclosure of the chemicals and fracking fluids drilling companies will use, which is not required under federal law. 


In the face of local opposition and legal pressure from SELC and partners, including Wild South and NRDC, a plan to lease over 40,000 acres in the Talladega National Forest was withdrawn. Learn more: Watch "Between the Fracks," a short documentary video about fracking in the Talladega.

We are also carefully monitoring the Bankhead National Forest in northwest Alabama for renewed interest in fracking development. 


Since 2013, natural gas exploration and extraction companies have increasingly approached property owners in northwest Georgia seeking to purchase mineral rights in hopes of tapping into the Conasauga Shale Field that underlies much of the area. Residents and local officials are turning to SELC to provide information on applicable federal and state laws, policies, technology, and potential impacts, with the goal of helping the community make informed decisions about whether and how to limit or regulate fracking.