Washington, D.C. – American Rivers today named the Rappahannock River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers®, shining a national spotlight on the threat fracking poses to clean drinking water and the state’s irreplaceable natural heritage.
“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers that face a critical decision in the next year,” said Jessie Thomas-Blate with American Rivers. “County and state leaders must act now in order to ensure that the Rappahannock River and the state’s clean water supplies are protected
from irreversible harm by any future fracking operations.”
There are currently around 85,000 acres in five counties leased for oil and gas development and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) along the tidal Rappahannock and many of its tributaries. Four out of five of these counties currently lack local ordinances or protections to safeguard clean water supplies and public health from fracking operations.  Fracking is a highly industrial activity that has drastic impacts on local communities. Contamination of groundwater and surface water is a significant concern because, as an increasing body of research confirms, industrial gas development with fracking can— and does— contaminate water.
American Rivers and its partners are calling on residents and local governments in Westmoreland, Essex, Caroline, and King and Queen Counties to decide whether this new industry has a place in their communities and then establish local land use ordinances to protect the Rappahannock River and Potomac Aquifer from drilling and fracking. There has been progress in King George County, Virginia,
through the successful passage of local ordinances that require a 750-foot buffer from fracking-related activities around all streams, wetlands, rivers, buildings, drinking water wells and public roads.  In addition, American Rivers is calling on the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate to uphold Virginia’s new drilling regulations that help protect rivers and clean drinking water from industrial gas development.
Virginia’s General Assembly must also maintain local land use authority over gas development and fracking.  “The Rappahannock River is the backbone of the regional economy in Virginia’s Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula and sustains a tremendous fishery, including oysters, blue crabs, striped bass and countless other species for local watermen,” said Richard Moncure, Tidal River Steward with Friends of the Rappahannock. “Protecting these resources and the rural character of these communities is imperative to ensure the health and scenic nature of the Rappahannock.”  “We encourage local citizens and officials to think long and hard about if, or how, they will allow fracking in their backyards,” said Kristin Davis, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “A recent EPA report– based on the most complete examination to date of scientific data– documents that fracking can lead to water contamination, reduced water quality and declining water levels. The good news is that Virginia communities have the power to protect their waters from these risks, whether they choose to do that through stringent restrictions or prohibiting gas development and fracking altogether.”
Three million people get their drinking water from the Potomac Aquifer, which would be impacted by fracking in the Rappahannock River watershed. The Rappahannock is rich in American history and vital to the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Thousands of residents and visitors take advantage of Rappahannock Basin rivers and streams for paddling, sport fishing, swimming and waterfowl hunting. The river is an important part of the John Smith National Historic Trail.
In its 32nd year, the annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.
Past endangered rivers in Virginia include the Potomac (2012 and 1998), Shenandoah (2006) and James (1990).