Virginia Governor Approves New Fracking Protections, Yet Fight Looms over Public Health Disclosures

Charlottesville, VA—New oil and gas regulations approved by Governor Terry McAuliffe provide critical improvements to Virginia’s current policies. The newly established protections will require mandatory disclosure of fracking chemicals, baseline water testing and monitoring, and spill prevention and response planning.

“While there’s more to be done to make sure our drinking water and communities are protected from fracking and industrial gas development, this is an important step forward to protect the health and safety of all Virginians and we thank Governor McAuliffe for his action today,” said Kristin Davis, attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Various stakeholders participated in the three-year regulatory process to amend the regulations, including the oil and gas industry, local governments, the Department of Environmental Quality, and conservation organizations. The process resulted in several much-needed improvements to Virginia’s oil and gas regulations, although they are not as protective as some states with intensive fracking operations.

Yet as community, public health, and conservation groups welcome the newly inked protections, oil and gas industry leaders are promoting legislation that would undermine the new public disclosure requirement for chemicals pumped into the ground during the fracking process.

There is a bill on the table for the next General Assembly that creates a broad “trade secrets” exemption from public disclosure under the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). This blanket exemption would shield certain fracking chemicals from public disclosure, without any consideration of risks to public health or environment. 

 “A FOIA exemption would allow oil and gas companies to keep this information secret at the expense of public health. As the new regulations confirm, information about these chemicals is especially important to communities and emergency responders charged with protecting public health and the environment,” said Davis. “The General Assembly should not roll back this essential new protection. We will continue working with Virginia communities to build on these fracking protections, not weaken them.”

SELC and Friends of the Rappahannock, with other partners, have championed strong local and state drilling oversight, including in the Taylorsville Basin where a company has obtained gas and oil leases on more than 85,000 acres just miles from the Chesapeake Bay. In August, King George County passed new land use laws to restrict oil and gas exploration.

“Virginia is facing a new era of industrial gas development and expansion that requires larger volumes of chemicals and more intense industrial activity, so we are understandably concerned about how fracking will impact our water, our landscape, and our communities,” said Richard Moncure, Tidal River Steward at Friends of the Rappahannock. “Now more than ever, Virginians are looking for policymakers to preserve the hard-won progress we’ve made so far.”

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About Southern Environmental Law Center:

The Southern Environmental Law Center is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. With nine offices across the region (Charlottesville, VA; Chapel Hill, NC; Atlanta, GA; Charleston, SC; Washington, DC; Birmingham, AL; Nashville, TN; Asheville, NC; and Richmond, VA), SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect the South’s natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org

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