Citizens express concerns about VOF mineral policies at forum

About 80 people attended a VOF-sponsored forum in Fredericksburg on March 13 to discuss the issue of natural gas extraction on conservation easements.

The four-hour forum featured presentations from the Shenandoah Valley network, Virginia Petroleum Council, and Northcentral Pennsylvania Conservancy. Nearly two hours were devoted to questions and comments from the public, including several environmental groups.

For most of its 47-year history, VOF has allowed some easement donors to retain limited oil and gas rights as long as those rights were consistent with federal tax law and VOF felt the rights would not jeopardize the conservation values of the easements.

In 2012, in response to concerns about the expansion of horizontal hydraulic fracturing in Virginia, VOF increased its restrictions in easements with retained oil and gas rights. Some members of the environmental community felt that the restrictions did not go far enough and are asking VOF to consider prohibiting all forms of oil and gas development on all of its easements.

Thursday’s forum was designed to solicit additional input from the public prior to VOF’s next board of trustees meeting on April 22, where the board is expected to consider these policies further.

Comments submitted during the forum, as well as video, presentations, and other information from the event, will be posted on VOF’s website later next week. Additional comments may be submitted any time to jmcgarvey@vofonline.org.

Conservation easements are voluntary agreements between private landowners and a qualified land trust such as VOF that limit development while allowing farming, forestry, and other uses that do not permanently destroy the conservation values of the property.

VOF holds easements on more than 729,000 acres—nearly the size of Rhode Island.

Jason McGarvey is VOF's communications and outreach manager. He is based in the Richmond office.