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December 4, 2013 / Christian Clansky

Preparing Greater Washington for the fracking boom

By Megan Gallagher & Cecily Kihn

Shale gas is hailed as a bridge fuel, a path to national energy independence and an economic boon to localities, but the industry’s exemptions from the federal Clean Water Act, the rapid pace and scale of well development, and rising public costs to cope with negative impacts has overwhelmed many communities. New breakthroughs in hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, allow drillers to use high pressure to force millions of gallons of water, some sand and chemicals a mile or more underground to break up shale rock and release gas or oil.

The East Coast fracking boom is currently underway in the Marcellus shale deposit in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio with oil and gas leasing in western Maryland and Virginia. In Virginia’s Tidewater, more than 84,000 acres is under lease in the Taylorsville Basin east of Fredericksburg, including 10,443 acres in King George County.

We suspect that this is a topic that many of our grantmaker colleagues in the Greater Washington region haven’t thought a lot about. There is no shale gas drilling underway – yet – in the communities served by WRAG. But many of the areas listed above will need to use our region as a transportation corridor to move the gas.

Fracking becomes a relevant local issue when you consider the great impact that this expected heavy increase in traffic will have on our already overused road systems.

So, to our colleagues who only fund in the region, we encourage you to consider supporting:

Academic and other research into health, environmental, economic, and other impacts of gas drilling in the Marcellus shale, to guide planning and rulemaking to mitigate or avoid negative outcomes. We want to be prepared for any impact that may come to the WRAG region.

Enhanced federal, state, and local oversight to reduce or minimize impacts – restoring industry regulation under the Clean Water Act, state studies of the industry before fracking takes place, BMPs and other requirements for current wells, local zoning control over pace, scale and siting of well development.

Improved federal, state, and local planning and policies that acknowledge some places should not be subject to such an intensive industrial land use – such as the NYC watershed, George Washington National Forest in Virginia, and other critical drinking watersheds or natural lands.

We know that this is not top of mind for funders now, but forewarned is forearmed. If you are interested in learning more about this, join us on the Health and Environmental Funders Network Fracking Affinity Group*.

Megan Gallagher is a trustee of the Hillsdale Fund and Cecily Kihn is executive director of the Aqua Fund, a WRAG member.

* The Health and Environmental Funders Network is a national affinity group not affiliated with WRAG. 

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