- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 2, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A Virginia advisory panel is recommending that energy companies disclose the chemical ingredients they use in horizontal fracking, a type of natural gas drilling that has raised environmental concerns.

The recommendation, among 14 proposed by the panel, would also require drilling companies to provide the state with closely guarded industry “recipes” for the fracking fluids.

The proposals have been submitted to Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration for review and a new round of public review.

Besides the requirement on fracking ingredients, the recommendations also provide for greater safeguards of water supplies, testing of drilling equipment and monitoring of water before drilling occurs. The latter is intended to better assess water quality before and after drilling occurs.

The review of Virginia laws involving hydraulic fracturing was sparked in part by concern over the leasing of more than 80,000 acres south and east of Fredericksburg by a Dallas energy company. That region already has tighter drilling rules because of its proximity to water sources, including a massive aquifer and rivers that flow into the Chesapeake Bay.

The Taylorsville Basin eyed by the energy company contains an estimated 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Fracking refers to the use of sand, water and other fluids and chemicals to dislodge natural gas from a layer cake of rock and shale. Horizontal drilling gives energy companies access to vast reserves of natural gas that previously couldn’t be reached by conventional drilling.

The process has caused a gold rush in the gas-rich Marcellus shale deposit, which runs from upstate New York to West Virginia. Energy companies are proposing the construction of hundreds of miles of pipeline from drilling fields and through Virginia to deliver the relatively cheap fuel to the Southeast.

Conservation and industry groups generally are pleased with the proposed Virginia regulations.

Nicole M. Rovner of The Nature Conservancy and a member of the advisory panel said the recommendations are a step in the right direction. She cited, for instance, improved groundwater monitoring and enhanced testing for drilling equipment.

Rover said the additional groundwater testing is important because in some locations where contamination has been found, it’s been difficult to state with certainty if fracking was to blame.

“This way we’ll be testing the water beforehand so we’ll know if it’s contaminated or not before fracking,” she said Monday.

Mike Ward, executive director of the Virginia Petroleum Council, said energy companies now only voluntarily have to list fracking ingredients.

“I think the state moving toward that cataloguing system and toward that information availability is a good thing all around,” he said.

The disclosure proposed in the recommendations would not only require companies to provide the ingredients of fracking fluid, but also how they are blended. That typically is a proprietary matter for drilling companies.

The recipes would be held by the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy as “a trade secret” and would not be accessible through public records requests.

If there were a spill at a drilling site, “then we would release that to medical personnel, first responders, etc.,” said Michael A. Skiffington, program support manager at the DMME.

He said legislation would be required to achieve the non-disclosure aspect in the recommendations, he said.

If McAuliffe signs off on the recommendations, a 60-day comment period would follow. DMME would hold at least one public hearing.

Twelve months is “not an unrealistic timeframe” for the regulations to be in place, Skiffington said.

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Online:

Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy: https://dmme.virginia.gov/DGO/RegulatoryAction.shtml

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Steve Szkotak can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sszkotakap.

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