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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Augusta County first in Virginia to prohibit fracking More »

In a nearly unanimous decision, the August County Board of Supervisors clearly and confidently voted on Wednesday night to prohibit fracking. As other Virginia localities grapple with how to address risks from fracking and industrial gas development in their own communities, Augusta’s decision highlights local leaders’ option to simply prohibit the practice. The County also added special use permit conditions for any traditional drilling that would not use fracking.

Former Augusta supervisor Nancy Sorrells thanked the board for, "putting our most precious natural resource at the top of its list of priorities. This decision is another example of the strong support from our leaders to protect the drinking water of our citizens."

Augusta County’s decision follows the December 2016 release of the Environmental Protection Agency’s final report that documents the various ways that fracking and gas drilling can and have led to water contamination. In some cases, it has rendered private drinking water well totally unusable. The report–which is the most complete compilation to date of national scientific data on the issue–was intended to provide “the scientific foundation for local decision makers, industry, and communities that are looking to protect public health and drinking water resources and make more informed decisions about hydraulic fracturing activities.”

“We applaud citizens and local officials who are taking a long, hard look at fracking and discussing what is best for their communities,” said SELC Attorney Kristin Davis. “Augusta County is an example for other Virginia communities also thinking about how to best address the threats, whether through stringent restrictions like that of King George County or an outright prohibition like Augusta County’s. It’s clear that no one is in a better position than local citizens and governments to make that decision.”

Other Virginia counties are also exploring their options to address the risks of fracking. In Westmoreland County, which overlies the Taylorsville Basin, there is strong citizen opposition to fracking and calls for a prohibition. The Westmoreland County Supervisors are now considering whether they should prohibit fracking or enact stringent restrictions.

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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.