Carrizo, the company that brought the term “fracking” and all its attendant concerns to the area with a 2010 permit application to drill a natural gas well in Bergton, has given up on gas drilling in Rockingham County and will not renew any of its local oil and gas leases.
According to records on file at the Rockingham County Courthouse, the company has already let leases on more than 7,100 acres of private land in the county expire at the end of their five-year terms. That’s more than half the 13,000 total acres in Rockingham County on which Carrizo and others purchased oil and gases leases beginning in 2006.
Richard Thompson, Carrizo’s vice-president for investor relations, told Old South High that the company will not renew any of the remaining five-year leases it holds in the county. The most recent leases were purchased in 2009, and will expire in 2014.
Thompson said the combination of local pushback and low natural gas prices prompted the company to turn its attention completely away from Rockingham County for the foreseeable future. The company was also disappointed with the results of a gas well it drilled in Hardy County, W.Va., just north of Bergton in the same geology that underlies western Virginia. (The closest cluster of productive gas wells in West Virginia is nearly 100 miles west of Rockingham County.)
“The confluence of all those events caused us to step aside and let those leases expire,” said Thompson. He added that should the company ever decide to return to the area – which it has no plans to do – it would have to start from scratch with new lease purchases.
Infinity Oil and Gas, a Denver company that also once purchased oil and gas drilling rights in Rockingham County, sold all its leases to Carrizo in 2008. “It’s pretty dead out there,” said Infinity Land Manager Jackie McGlashan, about industry interest in gas extraction in the region.
“[This] makes me proud of the citizens of Rockingham and the local elected officials who have put so much time into this issue,” said Kim Sandum, executive director of the Community Alliance for Preservation, a local organization that opposes fracking. “The Rockingham County Board of Supervisors listened to the concerns of citizens and took the time to learn more about the community impacts of fracking. A closer look revealed that promises of jobs and tax revenue did not come close to outweighing the negative impacts. In the end it became clear that this is not a good fit for Rockingham.”
When the leases were originally purchased, few people had heard of fracking, a term that has since enjoyed considerable attention and controversy.
“I certainly was ignorant of what ‘fracking’ was,” said Jay Smith, who sold a 201-acre oil and gas lease on his Fulks Run farm in 2006 and later became concerned about fracking’s potential impact on water quality. As the company has done with all its leases that have reached the end of their five-year terms, Carrizo let Smith’s lapse.
“We would not have renewed it even if they had been interested,” he said.
Carrizo has also let expire two gas leases it once held totaling more than 1,400 acres in the Dry River watershed, above the City of Harrisonburg’s water intake. (Click here for a detailed map showing all recently held oil and gas leases in Rockingham County, although note that many of them have already expired.)
David Mumaw, part of a group that owns more than 600 acres on Shenandoah Mountain above the city intake, also told Old South High that the group sold its lease to Carrizo before fracking was something people were aware of. Knowing what he now knows about the practice, Mumaw guesses that the group wouldn’t sign a similar contract in the future (he noted that his is just one opinion and such decisions are made by the entire group of landowners).
“We want to be good stewards of the property,” Mumaw said. “We have springs on top of the mountain, and those are very precious and special. The moment you start blasting or drilling, things can start happening to those springs.”
Randy Moyers, a member of another group that owns a different parcel of more than 800 acres above the city water intake, said he and the other owners never thought Carrizo would actually drill on the property, and considered the lease “free money” they used for taxes, insurance and maintenance. He also said he doesn’t think fracking on the property would represent any threat to the city’s water supply.
“We probably would do it again if they ever offered,” said Moyers. “It could be very profitable, and I don’t think it would disturb the aesthetics of the property.”
As Carrizo leaves the area with no plans to return, fracking opponents are ready for celebration but not complacency. Sandum pointed out that changing technology could bring the issue back to the area (the whole fracking boom is the product of relatively recent innovation in drilling technology).
Kate Wofford, executive director of the Shenandoah Valley Network, another group generally opposed to fracking in the area, said the time between now and whenever the issue may arise again locally offers a chance to develop standards, oversight and “determine areas that are inappropriate for industrial gas development.”
“It allows opportunity … [to] gain knowledge from some of the tough lessons being learned in other parts of the country that have taken a ‘drill first, ask questions later’ approach,” Wofford said.