The North Fork Journal:Proposed gas well in floodplain concerns residents
Like death and taxes, flooding in Bergton is inevitable. —Bruce Dove
July 30, 2010-
In a letter to Rockingham County
supervisors about the proposed
hydraulic fracturing well located in
1936: Record depths in Brock’s Gap
1949: Flash flooding
1969: Hurricane Camille
1972: Hurricane Agnes, North Fork reaches highest level ever recorded
1985: Hurricane Juan, flooding causes destruction of Riverside Church on the North Fork of the Shenandoah between Bergton and Fulks Run. All communities in the Brock’s Gap area were evacuated. Secondary roads in Bergton were washed away.
1996: Two 100-year floods this year. In January, heavy rains on top of snowmelt caused the North Fork to crest less than a foot below its all-time high in 1972. In September, the North Fork crested at 32.27 feet in Strasburg, the highest ever recorded. Several portions of the roads that Carrizo trucks would travel, Rts. 820 and 865, were completely washed out.
2003: Hurricane Isabel
2004: Tropical storms cause Bergton Road to close.
Compiled from Daily News-Record accounts.
Bergton resident Marge Peevy has lived through her fair share of flooding since she moved to the area in 1976.
So when Carrizon (Marcellus) LLC requested a special-use permit to drill for gas in the floodplain of the North Fork, she knew just one thing: that another flood was inevitable.
Peevy was one of several Brocks Gap residents who contributed to a summary of local flooding history that was mailed to Rockingham County supervisors last month.
The history, compiled from archives of the Daily News-Record and the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission, lists 10 major floods in the area since 1896.
“A gas well drilling/fracking pad with its storage containers of highly toxic chemicals, diesel fuel, lubricants, vehicles and equipment, and open pits of wastewater, would be highly vulnerable to being swept away in the next flood into the headwaters of the North Fork of the Shenandoah and, ultimately, all the way to the Chesapeake Bay,” the letter reads.
In February, Carrizo (Marcellus) LLC, a division of Houston-based energy company Carrizo, requested a special-use permit application from Rockingham County to drill for natural gas at the site.
Located on the south side of Crab Run Road, the proposed well consists of a drill pad and pit, fluid dispersal areas, topsoil storage areas and an alternate drill pit. The entire site lies within the Federal Emergency Management Agency-designated 100-year floodplain for Rader Run and Bennett Run.
The board of supervisors tabled the request until county employees could gather more information about hydraulic fracturing—also known as hydrofracking or fracking. Fracking is the process of using pressurized water, chemicals and sand to fracture shale and extract natural gas from deep below the surface.
The hydrofracking process is controversial, primarily because of the chemicals used in the process. Proponents say drilling can be performed safely within solid steel bores that don’t allow the liquid into nearby aquifers. They also say only a small portion of the liquid reaches the surface, where it is effectively treated in storing ponds or disposed of at an off-site location.
Opponents are concerned about potential water contamination, below the surface in aquifers and from retention ponds at the surface.
‘Showing the Evidence’
Bergton resident Bruce C. Dove coordinated research efforts and signed the letter. Dove owns a farm in the Criders area. Though his land could be a potentially lucrative site for gas exploration, he said he is more concerned about damage to the environment.
“What I hoped to accomplish from my letter was to make the supervisors aware of the dangers of flood[ing] in the Bergton area,” Dove wrote in an e-mail. Chris Bolgiano, a Fulks Run resident for the last 40 years and a retired archivist at James Madison University, helped compile the history.
“We all felt there wasn’t any point to browbeating people,” she said. “We thought it was important to show the evidence. Bergton is this little basin in the bowl of the mountains. It’s going to flood.”
Peevy contributed photos of flooding at her Bergton residence on Va. 820.
“I’m dead set against this,” she said, of the proposed well. Among her concerns, besides the location in a floodplain: pollution, water quality, noise and an increase in traffic.
Not just citizens are concerned about the proposed well’s location. A Community Development Special Use Permit report, prepared by county employees and submitted to the supervisors at the Feb. 24 meeting, states that “staff’s primary concern is with the proposed location being in the 100-year floodplain.”
The report also expressed concern about the nature and toxicity of the fracking liquid and the standards for “satisfactory” testing of contaminants.
Responding to the report, a Carrizo representative stated in an e-mail that the site will be elevated to above the floodplain level by 2-3 feet.
In an April 5 letter to Supervisor Joe Paxton, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries stated that the facilities should be “relocated or if this is unfeasible, ensure that such facilities are elevated or protected by impervious berms and constructed to withstand such storm events.”
The well’s location in the floodplain was the first of six “primary areas of concern” addressed in the letter.
No date has been set for the issue to be addressed by the Board of Supervisors. Supervisor Pablo Cuevas, whose district covers the site of the proposed well, did not respond to a request for an interview.
By Lauren Jefferson
In 1996, resident Marge Peevy took photos from the front porch of her house of flooding on Bergton Road and the bridge, one mile from the site of the proposed gas well. The water was at least six feet deep, she said.