Members of the King George County Board of Supervisors have added their voices to concerns about a proposed General Assembly bill that hides from the public record what chemicals are used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
Because King George “has been at the forefront of recent public discussions” about possible gas and oil drilling, the supervisors agreed Tuesday to lobby their legislators to oppose House Bill 1678. It is sponsored by Del. Roxann Robinson, R–Midlothian, and is designed to protect trade secrets of the companies involved in fracking, the process of injecting water and chemicals deep into the ground to loosen trapped gas and oil.
The King George County board is among several advocates of open government, as well as environmentalists and the Virginia Association of Counties, who oppose the measure. Supervisors agreed to send a letter to legislators Ryan McDougle, Richard Stuart and Margaret Ransone, asking them to oppose Robinson’s bill and a similar one in the Senate. The letter says that residents have a right to know what chemicals are being introduced into the environment, just as first responders need to know what they’re dealing with in the case of a fire, leaking well or overflowing waste pit.
And, they need to know the particular properties of chemicals before something happens, said Eric Gregory, King George’s county attorney. He spoke in opposition of the bill, and House Bill 1679, which would allow information to be released after an accident happens.
Gregory served on a panel convened in recent years by the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, the state agency that oversees gas and oil drilling. The panel was composed of representatives from wildlife and environmental groups, as well as those from industry and county government, and one of its main recommendations was that drillers should disclose what chemicals are used—and not be able to hide them under the notion that publicly posting the list would harm their company because it would reveal a trade secret.
DMME officials also reported that the majority of comments from the public about drilling regulations suggested the gas and oil industry should be more forthcoming about what chemicals are used.
But Robinson, as well as members of the industry, maintain that first responders could get the needed information from the DMME, which would have access to the list of chemicals under her proposed legislation.
She also pointed out that the state has a stellar safety record after fracking in Virginia for decades, and there hasn’t been a requirement to disclose the list of chemicals.
But Ruby Brabo, chairwoman of the King George board, has traveled and talked extensively about fracking issues, including a summer visit to Colorado towns that went through a gas-drilling boom. She said past examples have shown that information about what chemicals are used isn’t disclosed quickly enough.
In an opinion piece she wrote for the Richmond Times–Dispatch on Sunday, she said it took state and federal officials five days to get a list of what chemicals spilled into the Ohio River after a fracking accident in Monroe County, Ohio.
“By then, 70,000 fish were dead and firefighters had been battling the chemical-induced blaze for a week,” she wrote.
The House bills are being discussed in the House General Laws Committee. If the committee approves them, they will be considered on the House floor.