On Wednesday, June 4, a regulatory advisory panel convened by the Virginia Oil and Gas Board will start reviewing the adequacy of Virginia’s regulations for exploration and drilling for natural gas in Virginia.

Mike Skiffington, program support manager to the Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy, said that the panel is part of a regulatory review process that commenced in late 2013 when the Virginia energy board invited public comments on whether to expand requirements for public disclosure of well-drilling compounds used in “well stimulation,” referring to a practice commonly known as fracking.

The panel’s charge also includes reviewing Virginia’s oil and gas regulations to make sure they reflect industry best management practices. In addition, the panel will review existing regulations “to determine if current requirements are sufficient to properly regulate drilling in different geographical areas of the Commonwealth.”

While oil and gas exploration and production has been part of the landscape of southwest Virginia for decades, only recently has there been any interest in recovering natural gas from deposits in other parts of the state.

In 2010, a Houston-based company attempted to obtain a special use permit to drill in Rockingham County, but county officials tabled the request based on concerns that the impacts to local infrastructure and public safety would far exceed the required $25,000 bond.  [See VA Tidewater communities educating themselves on fracking issues, December 5, 2014.] 

Since 2011, Dallas-based Shore Exploration and Development has leased the mineral rights to over 84,000 acres in the Taylorsville basin, a shale oil  deposit that underlies portions of Virginia’s Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula. As notice of these lease sales came to the attention of public officials and environmental groups, scrutiny of existing oil and gas regulations increased.  In April 2014, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation, the quasi-public state organization that holds the largest number of conservation easements in Virginia, changed its policy to no longer allow “reserved mineral rights” in any of its future easements.

Though regulations were passed in the 1990s to limit exploration and drilling in the coastal plain of Virginia and require increased oversight by state agencies, several tidewater localities have petitioned Governor McAuliffe to be proactive – and to direct his administration to conduct a thorough review of the environmental, safety, and economic issues now rather than waiting for the first permit application to be submitted by Shore Exploration.

The regulatory advisory panel is required by Virginia law to complete its review by mid-August, which is based on the state requirement for panel recommendations to be completed in 180 days following first notice of regulatory intent. Skiffington said that starting in June might not allow the panel enough time to make its recommendations. “It’s up to them,” he said, “how they choose to handle this.”

The panel includes representatives from the oil and gas industry as well as Nature Conservancy and the county attorney from King George, one of the counties where a significant number of leases have been purchased by Shore.

Shore officials have been saying for several months that they intend to start exploration in the next year to 18 months, though no permit applications have been submitted.

The Virginia regulatory process requires that the Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade and the governor review the recommendations from the panel. Any proposed regulations would then be posted to the Virginia Register and open for comment through written submissions and a public hearing.

See also
Potomac Watershed Roundtable Considers Fracking in the Taylorsville Basin, April 4, 2014