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Fracking pros, cons debated

The Texas oil man said that any company planning to drill for natural gas in the Fredericksburg region better be forthcoming about its operations, particularly in terms of what chemicals are used.

Because of all the attention that possible drilling in the region has generated, “not telling you what’s in the fracking fluid, now that would be crazy, that would be political suicide,” said Stan Sherrill, president of Shore Exploration and Production Corp. of Dallas.

Fracking is the term used for hydraulic fracturing, a process that injects lots of water, sand and chemicals deep into the ground to shake loose oil and gas from the surrounding shale or limestone. Fracking fluid is the wastewater that comes back up after the well is drilled, and a state panel is suggesting that drilling companies should disclose all chemicals used in the process instead of calling the formula a trade secret.

Sherrill and his company have leased 84,000 acres in what’s known as the Taylorsville Basin, east and south of Fredericksburg. He served on a panel that made presentations on Thursday at King George High School during the first countywide town-hall meeting on fracking. The town hall, which was attended by about 160 people, included presentations from state officials, the Southern Environmental Law Center, former state delegate Albert Pollard and Shore.

Sherrill’s comments about full disclosure seemed to surprise and please those around him.

Pollard, who’s given sessions called “Fracking 101” for the Friends of the Rappahannock, said he was glad Sherrill would reveal what other companies tried to hide.

Related: Are fracking bans fair?

“Thank you, Mr. Sherrill,” he said.

Sherrill gave the most impassioned presentation of the night and said it was too bad the issue of fracking created so much “worry and hand-wringing.” He said fracking “can be one of the greatest things that’s ever happened to this area,” and that his company would be environmentally responsible.

“Believe me, the one thing we cannot afford is to have anything bad happen,” he said.

Sherrill also suggested that anyone who wanted to know what’s in fracking fluid could go to a website–FracFocus.org–and see for themselves the entire list of chemicals companies use.

Rick Parrish, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said he had to disagree with his “friend, Mr. Sherrill.”

Drilling companies voluntarily provide information to the FracFocus site. Even those who do list chemicals used don’t necessarily name all of them for proprietary reasons.

At times, Sherrill sounded like an industry advertisement as he touted the benefits of cheap energy. He said air quality was better than it had been for decades because of natural gas and that the industry is “creating a real renaissance” in the country.

Slides shown by Parrish and Pollard presented a different point of view.

“It’s not hysteria, there are real issues that people are facing around the country,” Parrish said. “One of the concerns we hear about is that we just don’t know enough about this activity and its impact on aquifers, surface waters, the Chesapeake Bay and air quality.”

Pollard detailed the impact an industrial activity such as gas drilling has on roads, noise and the landscape.

Officials from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy outlined what permits are needed and how the application process works.

William Lassetter, a geologist with DMME, talked about the basin as a potential resource for natural gas. He said several studies have been done on the region–some with more optimistic results than others. It’s believed there’s about 1,064 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the basin.

“Remember, this is a very cursory look and a best guess based on very limited information,” Lassetter said.

Parrish and Pollard also encouraged local governments in the affected counties to address natural gas drilling in their land-use ordinances. Counties can’t issue permits or regulate the industry–state agencies do that–but they can specify how, when and where they’d like drilling activities to take place.

King George Supervisor Joe Grzeika, who led Thursday’s panel, read about a dozen questions members of the audience had submitted in writing. All the questions will be given to panel members and posted on the county’s website, he said.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com ___

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