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Area ‘partners’ back drilling

The Texas oil company that’s leased 84,000 acres south and east of Fredericksburg for possible gas drilling still hopes to begin operations in 2015.

“We don’t have a specific timetable but I hope to be drilling some time within the next year,” said Stan Sherrill, president of Shore Exploration and Production Corp.

When “we have a partner in place, then we’ll be consulting with that partner and be making decisions when and where to drill,” he said.

Shore officials have stated all along that they will flip the leases to a larger company with the capital to cover the expense of drilling. That company could buy all the leases or any portion of them, Sherrill said.

In so doing, Shore’s partner would be the company that would apply for permits and determine what drilling methods to use.

Shore has paid landowners a one-time fee of $15 per acre–or $1.25 million–for 84,000 acres leased in the five counties of the Taylorsville basin. They are: Caroline, Essex, King George, King and Queen and Westmoreland counties.

The leases are good for seven years, so ones recorded in early 2011 are nearing their halfway point.

Sherrill said his company has “had some active meetings recently with people who we think would be very good partners. We’re looking for someone who has got the clout and expertise and also has the reputation for being very sensitive to environmental concerns.”

W.W. “Woody” Hynson, a Westmoreland County supervisor who has leased his farm to Shore, said he’s concerned about what type of company Shore might attract.

Hynson said he’s friends with a Texas oil executive, who said companies only drill in places where they’re welcomed, such as Texas, Louisiana or Wyoming.

“He told me no legitimate company would come to [this part of] Virginia because it’s too close to Washington, D.C., and the Chesapeake Bay,” Hynson said. “If there’s a mishap, every politician and environmentalist would be breathing down their necks.”

Hynson interprets his friend’s opinion to mean that the only interested company would be a “wildcatter,” someone who would form a limited liability company and rent equipment.

“If something goes wrong, they’ll declare bankruptcy, and we’re left holding the bag,” Hynson said.

Sherrill said his company currently isn’t pursuing more leases in the Taylorsville basin, but “we may have another agent up there by the end of the year, taking a much more active approach.”

Kenneth Snow is a landman for Shore and rents a home in Essex County. In a September story by Virginia Public Radio, he said that he regularly gets calls from people interested in leases.

“Every time the paper writes a nasty article about us, I get 10 phone calls from people saying, ‘I’ve got this land I want you to come lease,'” Snow said.

Often, those calls are from landowners outside the area Shore is targeting for drilling.

“We tell them we will not be taking your leases at this time, but we appreciate your support,” Sherrill said.

No applications have been filed, but with the extra state regulations that are in place for drilling in the Tidewater region, it could take six to nine months for the involved agencies to review paperwork.

The potential delay annoyed Tommy Upshaw, a Caroline County resident who has leased land for possible drilling. He said the state, particularly the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, “has too many regulations as it is.”

Only in the Tidewater area, which includes the Taylorsville basin, does the DEQ have authority to review applications for drilling.

Then, it has to pass its recommendations along to the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, which oversees drilling in the state.

Upshaw encouraged agencies to do whatever is needed to clear the way for industry.

“Economically, it will make a difference to the county and state,” Upshaw said.

Related: Virginia may not frack for years, governor says

WESTMORELAND: ‘WOODY’ HYNSON

W.W. “Woody” Hynson spent a year looking into natural gas drilling before he leased his 203-acre farm in Westmoreland County.

Even though he signed up his land, he still sees the pros and cons of fracking.

Must be the politician in him.

Hynson, 65, has served on the Westmoreland Board of Supervisors for 23 years. He appears to be the only supervisor who has leased land for potential drilling in the Taylorsville basin, the five counties south and east of Fredericksburg.

He cannot express his opinions for or against drilling during county meetings–or vote on the matter–because that would create a conflict of interests. Hynson stressed that, for this story, he’s speaking as a farmer who’s concerned about the production of his land and the protection of the waters that form a peninsula around his property off Leedstown Road.

Hynson says he believes no one in the region, state or country can afford to say an outright “no” to American gas and oil drilling. The price the country has paid to wage war in oil-rich lands and to bomb Syria is too high, he said–not to mention the value of lost lives and disabled service members.

“People should be saying, ‘How can we drill safely?'” he said. “I am convinced in my heart it can be drilled, and drilled safely, if everyone does what they’re supposed to do.”

He’s good friends with various politicians who have represented the Northern Neck and enjoyed a duck hunt or picnic at his Brick Row Farm. He speaks fondly of W. Tayloe Murphy Jr., the former Virginia delegate who was the leading voice for environmental interests during his time in the legislature, from 1982 until 2000. He also served as state secretary of natural resources from 2002 to 2006.

Murphy helped write the more stringent regulations pertaining to drilling in the Tidewater region, which includes the Taylorsville basin.

Hynson believes Murphy put in enough extra precautions to make drilling safe.

It’s the human factor that concerns him.

In the worst cases of oil spills and environmental devastation, technology didn’t fail. People did, he said, whether a top official was drunk or ordered drilling to continue with defective equipment.

Hynson says fracking divides people along the lines of those who stand to benefit from it–namely owners of large amounts of land–and those who don’t. He says that farmers, foresters and people in private business look at the land as a resource, a way to help them balance the books each year. It’s the same as the crops they raise.

“If you have a quarter-acre lot and a state or government job–or you’re someone who gets a paycheck every Friday–you have no interest in [drilling],” Hynson said. “You’re against it.”

He also believes that American gas and oil will be needed, one day, when demand is great and supplies from elsewhere have been cut off or exhausted.

“Mark my word,” he said. “When it’s needed bad enough, somebody’s gonna drill it. I’d rather be negotiating at the table now, when it’s still not a necessity.”

CAROLINE: MAYNARD PENNEY

Maynard Penney can’t stand the thought that outsiders are trying to dictate what should happen in Caroline County in terms of natural gas drilling.

“If I own my land, why should someone that doesn’t even live in my county determine what I get to do on my land?” he asked.

Penney–who jokes that the famous retailer J.C. Penney “never claimed kin” to him–is a farmer and real estate agent. He’s 81, but still goes each weekday to his office on Bowling Green’s Main Street.

His wife, Jean, teases that he doesn’t do much–and the comfortable chairs in the front part of the office speak to his fondness for gab sessions. So does a sign on the wall that says: “The Old Salt Gathering Place: where sailors of yesteryear recount their adventures and tell tall tales.”

Penney has leased almost 300 acres in Sparta, south of Bowling Green, for possible gas drilling. He and his Caroline neighbors have signed up more land to Shore Exploration and Production Corp. than any other county in the region.

They’ve leased 40,733 acres to Shore, which is based in Dallas but has an office in Bowling Green.

Caroline’s leased land makes up 48 percent of the total, of 84,000 acres, leased by Shore.

Penney keeps track of government goings-on in Caroline and has attended one informational meeting about fracking. He said he raised his hand at a Bowling Green session last year to comment, but was not called on. He says the meeting organizers don’t want to hear from people who support drilling.

“Let’s have a level playing field,” he said, adding he believes discussions should look at all sides. “Mostly all that’s been presented is one side of the issue.”

He said those who support drilling “haven’t jumped up and down and said a whole lot because they haven’t had a forum to do it.” Meanwhile, he said the anti-fracking element has focused on what could happen in the region, based on experiences elsewhere.

“You got a small group of people who are loud,” he said. “You don’t have to have concrete evidence if you’re loud enough.”

Penney said he and other landowners balk at the notion that people from other states, such as Colorado, Pennsylvania and New York, have come to the Fredericksburg area and tried to tell them what to do. He doesn’t even want to hear it from neighboring counties.

“The anti-fracking people are trying to get control of our government,” he said. “They’ve done it in King George County, and they’re trying to do it in Essex.”

Penney said he doesn’t pay much attention to reports of potential fracking-related problems, such as water contamination from leaked chemicals, pollution or earthquakes.

“I only care about what’s going on in Caroline County and throughout Virginia,” he said.

KING AND QUEEN: LINDA AND LARRY PLEASANTS

Larry and Linda Pleasants had never heard of King and Queen County until they looked at land there a few years ago.

She was a real estate agent and heard about a farmhouse for sale, and he was working for the post office. The couple had raised their family in Fairfax County, spent their careers in Alexandria–and needed to get away from the traffic.

“We always wanted a farmhouse with some land,” he said.

The retired couple–she’s 64 and he’s 66–got their wish in King and Queen, a county with more open fields than neighborhoods. There are also several lumber mills in the area, and the smell of fresh-cut pine hangs pleasantly in the air.

The couple spent five years renovating the house, adding a modern kitchen and more insulation, and furnishing bedrooms so they look like they belong in a bed and breakfast. They moved to the country in 2011.

“I love it here,” she said. “Have you ever seen signs that say ‘this is my happy place’? Well, this is my happy place.”

Their property is also on the southern end of the Taylorsville basin, where a Texas oil company has leased 84,000 acres for possible drilling of natural gas.

The couple leased their 29 acres to Shore Exploration and Production Corp. because they would like to get some money from the land–and to see more job opportunities for the county’s young people.

“As soon as kids graduate and get their diploma, they get a ticket to Richmond or Washington,” he said. “I don’t think it would hurt if they put in a few neighborhoods or a few businesses, but some people don’t want anything to change, yet their kids leave because there’s nothing here for them.”

King and Queen represents the smallest portion of land leased at 6,010 acres. It almost has the smallest population of the Taylorsville basin, which also includes Caroline, Essex, King George and Westmoreland counties.

In 2013, King and Queen’s estimated population was 7,130.

King and Queen and King William County are parallel to each other and form two long fingers of land that stretch south from Caroline into Gloucester County.

Linda Pleasants is from Tazewell County, in southwestern Virginia, and said her relatives have been glad to have the industries of coal mining and gas drilling.

“They don’t have any issues with it,” she said.

He said he and his wife have concerns about keeping the groundwater safe and have been reassured by Shore representatives. They report statistics from the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, which oversees drilling in the state.

VDMME says more than 8,000 wells in Virginia have been fracked without any water problems–though environmentalists point out the wells drilled in coal country aren’t as deep and don’t require the massive amounts of water and chemicals that may be needed in the Taylorsville basin.

“I think there’s always going to be problems with just about anything they do,” he said. “You just hope they can contain it.”

 

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