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

Virginia’s Rappahannock River serves as the backbone of the regional economy, sustaining a tremendous fishery that includes oysters, blue crabs, and striped bass. (© Chesapeake Bay Program)

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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