Not a Good Fit
Next week, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF), a public agency of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the state's largest holder of conservation easements, will be reviewing a number of new properties for potential protection. Several of the easements they'll be considering would explicitly permit drilling for oil and gas, including the use of hydraulic fracturing, in areas that have little to no history of drilling.
Allowing this type of industrial mineral extraction on land that has been permanently protected with a conservation easement is contrary to the purpose of most easements.
The Virginia Outdoors Foundation was created by the General Assembly in 1966 to preserve the natural, scenic, historic, scientific, open-space and recreational areas of the Commonwealth. VOF accomplishes this goal primarily though the acceptance of Conservation Easements. An easement is a voluntary land protection agreement between a landowner and a land conservation organization, designed to protect the agricultural resources, forest resources, scenic open space, or wildlife habitat that may exist on a property.
Hydraulic fracturing (often referred to as "fracking") is a mining technique where a mixture of water, sand, and chemicals is injected into the ground to create fractures and allow products such as natural gas or petroleum products to reach the well and be extracted. While there is not yet scientific certainty regarding the dangers or the safety of this technique, fracking leads to significant impact and degradation of the surface of the property and could have a long term impact on both ground and surface water resources.
Weigh In Today
VOF is the largest easement holder in Virginia, and for decades has done exceptionally important work conserving land.
Given VOF's charge to preserve the important lands of Virginia, they shouldn't be allowing industrial gas exploration on properties protected by conservation easements. Before accepting any more new conservation easements that would allow activities such as fracking and other industrial energy development, they should engage in a broad public dialog about how and where extraction of oil and gas makes sense in Virginia.
Already, local governments and communities in the Shenandoah Valley have expressed their opposition to fracking in their region, and residents of the Northern Neck are just now beginning the debate about the impacts that fracking will have on their communities.
VP of Conservation and Rural Programs
The Piedmont Environmental Council
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