Virginia lawmakers ban fracking east of I-95

Sunset on the Rappahannock River.  (© Charles Shoffner)

The Virginia General Assembly is set to ban fracking in the eastern part of the state, a move that comes after a years-long campaign by SELC and several partners to expose the public health and environmental dangers of the practice.

The bill, SB106 introduced by Sen. Scott Surovell, will ban hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking, east of Interstate 95. That will protect the drinking-water sources for a wide swath of the state, including the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck. The bill is headed to Gov. Ralph Northam for his signature.

Fracking is a method of extracting natural gas from underground rock formations. The fluids and chemicals injected into the earth to force out the gas can contaminate aquifers and other sources of drinking water.

“We’re thankful that so many Virginians used their voices to oppose this threat to their water and to the environment, and thankful to Sen. Surovell for taking on this important issue,” said Kristin Davis, an SELC senior attorney who spearheads the organization’s work to address threats that fracking and industrial gas development pose to Virginians. “This bill had strong bi-partisan support, which speaks to how important it is for so many of our neighbors.”

For the past seven years, SELC has earned hard-fought victories to protect communities and their drinking water from the risks of fracking, including:

  • Prohibiting new gas leases or fracking within the George Washington National Forest
  • Clarifying that communities in Virginia have strong local controls over drilling operations
  • Helping counties pass ordinances to restrict or ban fracking
  • Improving Virginia’s outdated drilling regulations
  • Preventing drillers from keeping secret the cocktails of fracking chemicals they pump into the ground.

Friends of the Rappahannock and Virginia’s League of Conservation Voters have been key partners over the years, Davis said, and in many cases took up the fight themselves.

“This is a welcome victory that takes major steps to protect our communities and the Rappahannock River,” said Richard Moncure, River Steward with Friends of the Rappahannock. “In 2017, American Rivers listed the Rappahannock as one of the nation’s 10 most endangered rivers because of the potential for fracking pollution. We’re grateful we could eliminate the threat from this important natural resource.”

Delegates Joshua Cole and Kaye Kory served as House patrons for the successful bill.

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