Virginia Democrat Dan Gecker goes all-in against fracking

State senate candidate Dan Gecker told a forum at Virginia Commonwealth University this week that he opposes both fracking and proposals to open Virginia's continental shelf for natural gas exploration. 

Those stances put the maverick Democrat at odds with his party's leading Virginia officials. 

Responding to a question from Republican candidate Glen Sturtevant on why he opposes these initiatives, Gecker said: "It would certainly be good to have an independent voice in the legislature, for one. I get to disagree."

Gecker's stance contrasts with the positions of the state's top three elected Democrats: Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner and Gov. Terry McAuliffe. 

Kaine and Warner both support offshore gas exploration. McAuliffe supports exploration as well as the construction of the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline. 

Energy policy has become a surprise issue in elections coming up next month. Virginia is one of just four states holding significant votes this year. 

The 554-mile-long pipeline would carry natural gas, produced in part through fracking, from West Virginia through Virginia to eastern North Carolina. The governors of all three states support its construction, but several environmental and property rights activists oppose it.

Kaine and Warner backed legislation that would expand offshore energy leasing in addition to the establishment of a revenue-sharing model for Atlantic coast states similar to that used to distribute energy production royalties to Gulf Coast states.

Gecker, a Chesterfield County supervisor running in a toss-up district, said he is putting environmental concerns first. "I believe there is insufficient evidence that fracking can be done safely to justify it in Virginia. I would not put the environment of Virginia at risk with fracking."

Regarding offshore natural gas exploration, Gecker said: "Right now, it has not been demonstrated that it can be done safely. We have a wonderful coastline and, again, I will not risk Virginia's environment for drilling offshore." 

The Virginia Commonwealth forum Tuesday centered on the race for the state's 10th senate district, which includes portions of Richmond as well as a chunk of suburbs west of the capital and south of the James River. Major-party candidates Gecker and Sturtevant are also facing independent Marlene Durfee and Libertarian Carl Loser. 

Gecker went on to tout his dedication to economic development, stating that he will be attending the groundbreaking ceremony for the $2 billion Tranlin paper plant in Chesterfield County. 

"I know how to provide economic development for our citizens without fracking, and without risking the environment," he told the audience.

The hard-line stance on energy is just the latest case of Gecker's independence from his party's most powerful players. During the Democratic primary earlier this year, one of his opponents slammed him for his longtime service as legal counsel to Kathleen Willey, one of President Bill Clinton's sexual-misconduct accusers in the 1990s. 

In contrast, in an interview this month on WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show, McAuliffe credited his ability to persuade the Chinese paper manufacturer to choose the Chesterfield site in part to the Atlantic coast gas pipeline.

McAuliffe said: "We won that in Virginia — $2 billion, 2,000 new jobs. The only reason I’m in the game moving these companies to Virginia is because of this pipeline.”

After Gecker laid out his opposition to the new energy projects, Sturtevant countered he would be "proud to stand with Gov. McAuliffe, Sen. Kaine [and] Sen. Warner in a bipartisan fashion. Energy means jobs in Virginia. And you simply cannot be serious about that unless you have an all-of-the-above energy policy."