Controversial hydraulic fracking is becoming a distinct possibility in areas south and east of Fredericksburg on land famed for its bucolic and watery splendors, not to mention for being the birthplaces of such figures as George Washington, James Monroe and Robert E. Lee.

After buying up 84,000 acres worth of leases from Caroline to Westmoreland Counties, a Dallas-based company this week participated in a public discussion of its plans.

According to the Free-Lance Star, the meeting was put together by King George County Supervisor Rudy Brabo to air concerns and hear plans of Shore Exploration and Production Co., which is based in Dallas and has offices in Bowling Green.

About 100 people attended the April 14 meeting, but judging from the newspaper’s account, there were more questions than answers. Participants repeatedly asked Shore Chief Executive Edmund DeJarnette Jr. what his plans were regarding fracking and who would be responsible for damages if something went wrong.

DeJarnette responded that his firm is looking to sell the leases to other gas drillers and operators. The state’s Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy issues permits one at a time and is responsible for enforcing them, he said.

Hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling have touched off a revolution in the American energy industry in recent years, particularly in the Marcellus Shale formation stretching from New York to southwest Virginia in the Appalachians. The methods have also been used in rich shale-oil deposits in North Dakota and other western states.

Among the concerns about the process are the toxic chemicals that are ordinarily mixed with water and pumped underground, which many fear could eventually ruin groundwater serving streams and wells. DeJarnette said the lease areas under discussion were conducive to the use of nitrogen instead of water. Other concerns are that the inevitable “flowback” in drilling will require surface ponds to handle toxic waste. In places such as Pennsylvania and West Virginia where fracking is permitted, quiet country areas are disturbed by the roar of diesel generators at drilling sites and from trucks delivering  supplies. Methane can leak from rigs, further contributing to global warming, and flash fires can be problems. Fracking can also consume great amounts of water.

On the plus side, holders of mineral leases can receive great sums in royalties and various taxes and other payments can boost local coffers. Natural gas is a cleaner source of energy than coal and plays a big role in electricity generation in the Mid-Atlantic. While providing few details on who would actually handle the drilling, how it would be done and who would be responsible for problems or accidents, DeJarnette repeatedly emphasized the monetary benefits and jobs fracking would bring, the Free-Lance Star said.

If it proceeds, fracking in the Taylorsville Basin would likely be confined to Virginia, which is more business-friendly than Maryland, where the basin also extends. The area stretches across the Potomac River into Charles, St. Mary’s, Calvert and Anne Arundel Counties, but Maryland has a moratorium on fracking until it can be studied further.

DeJarnette says he wants drilling to start by late this year or in 2015.

Peter Galuszka blogs at Bacon’s Rebellion. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.