Rockingham County, VA: Rockingham County had a problem. A hydro-fracking company had leased a swath of land. Residents were concerned that fracking for natural gas in their backyards would jeopardize their health, their water and land, and the local infrastructure. But the community rallied together and sent the oil and gas company packing.
How did they do it? Education is key, according to Chris Bolgiano, who refers to herself as a “mildly amusing nature writer.” She says that Carrizo, the oil and gas company that came to the area with a 2010 permit application to drill a natural gas well in Bergton, originally intended to drill in a small, pastoral area of the county.
“There had been gas drilling in these parts since 1935 and people thought they knew what gas drilling was all about,” says Chris, “so lots of people signed leases that allowed companies to drill on their land. These people thought a drilling rig would come in then pipe or truck the gas away. You could simply plant a tree in front of the well head and it wouldn't be seen. But times change.
“We had a few leaders in our community put together public meetings to explain what fracking is all about,” Chris explains. “Then a district supervisor (who had been pro-fracking) visited a hydro-fracking site in West Virginia: He was appalled by what he saw and is now fervently opposed to fracking.”
Chris says that several things changed the supervisor’s mind about fracking.
1. The extent of the industrialization. He saw massive sites; instead of just one well pad there were many different kinds of pads, from compressor pads to truck transfer stations that had totally fragmented and torn up the countryside.
2. Truck traffic. The supervisor had been fighting to improve the roads; now the trucks were tearing them up physically. Add to the fray noise and air pollution - 24/7. Only if the county enforces some kind of indemnity could they hope to get something back. In other words, the county has to have regulations in place so that the gas and oil companies fix their mess, otherwise the county has to cough it up, adding insult to injury. And accidents occur. Some towns even reported that children were killed in truck and pedestrian accidents. Trucks spilled fracking fluid into creeks, killing wildlife. Some counties allow the gas company to spray fracking fluid on the road to keep down the dust, making people ill.
3. The hydrolic fracking companies promised employment. The supervisor looked at the license plates of workers, and very few locals were hired. Most company employees are transients - they follow the drilling rigs. A huge cohort of relatively young men bring with them alcohol and drug problems, prostitution and crime.
The fracking companies also promised that the community would benefit economically by renting out rooms, bring business to local restaurants and grocery stores, etc. But that boom to rural towns is temporary. “The increased job scene that fracking promises is a myth,” says Chris. “When I toured and researched West Virginia, I concluded that you are undertaking an enormous risk when you frack and for what? To make a few people rich. And now they want to export it!”
How to say NO to Fracking
Chris advises people to start with neighborhood meetings and share information. “When people sign leases, the gas companies will offer you the absolute lowest amount of money for a lease and there can be enormous discrepancies,” she says. “For instance, your neighbor could get ten times more money than you. But if you all band together and decide not to sign, you will deny them access. Now they might go down the road to another community, or even to another state.
“When it comes to horizontal drilling, they might be drilling under your land if your neighbor signs a lease. You may not even know it is happening. It depends on the kinds of laws and ordinances your particular community has, so find someone - ideally at your town hall - who can explain the laws and what is permitted.”
Generally before a company is granted a permit to drill there is a public hearing. Again this depends on the locality. Chris suggests the role of education comes into play before they consider giving a drilling permit or not. “Of course the request to drill is what generates interest so there may not be much time to act,” she adds. “Be proactive and go to those meetings, and if you are living in a community on top of those shale formations, you really should start looking at the issue long before a company comes in.
“Most people in these parts own their own land. If the owner signs a lease and a drilling company comes in, everyone in that area can potentially be impacted. Gas and oil companies are moving closer to towns, and on campuses. Start by protesting.”
Carrizo, the oil and gas company that was sent packing, had a permit application in 2010, and leased more than 7,100 acres of private land in the county. It gave up on gas drilling in Rockingham County, and is not renewing any of its local oil and gas leases.
Chris is right: on its website, Carrizo states: The company has accumulated significant expertise in the drilling and completion of complex extended reach horizontal wells in resource shales located in densely populated urban areas and difficult terrains. Our business strategy is to leverage this core competency in pursuing exploitation and development opportunities in the most prospective North American resource shale regions.
Richard Thompson, Carrizo’s vice-president for investor relations, said that pressure from residents combined with low natural gas prices prompted the company to leave Rockingham County and it has no plans to return.