Cathy Dyson writes about King George County. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Supervisors ask planners to examine drilling ordinances
In an effort to maintain “ultimate control” of any natural gas drilling that might take place in their locality, the King George supervisors on Tuesday directed the Planning Commission to review the county’s zoning ordinances.
The current ordinance allows for exploratory drilling only, so the supervisors directed planners to recommend any changes necessary, should a company apply for a special-exception permit to drill for natural gas or oil.
Supervisors made it clear in previous discussions that their job isn’t to regulate the site, well or drilling itself. Nor will they oversee environmental issues and controls. Those are the purview of state and federal agencies.
The county’s role is to “address the aspect of drilling in rural areas,” said Chairman Joe Grzeika. And in that arena, “we have ultimate control,” he said during an Aug. 21 work session. “This is all done by special exception, and I don’t think anyone wants to change that.”
The chairman has said in previous sessions that he doesn’t want to “induce or prevent fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing, the process of injecting water and chemicals deep into the ground to free trapped gas. He wants to look at the issue from the only vantage point over which counties have any control: land use.
However, fellow Supervisor Dale Sisson Jr. has said publicly in four of the last five meetings that he doesn’t support fracking in King George. Nor do his fellow members, he said on Tuesday.
“From what I’ve heard, there’s no appetite of any of that,” Sissons said.
Throughout the year, King George supervisors have discussed various aspects of drilling and its impact on the rural community. A Texas company has leased more than 84,000 acres in King George and four other counties south and east of Fredericksburg that make up what’s called the Taylorsville basin.
The resolution the King George supervisors approved is much shorter than the original version. As late as Tuesday morning, Grzeika and County Attorney Eric Gregory whittled the wording down to five paragraphs. They state that drilling would be allowed by special exception only in agriculturally zoned districts.
Because the process “may have a significant impact” on the county and its residents, resources, environmental, economy and transportation infrastructure, supervisors want planners to recommend changes to the language that address the possible industrialization of a rural county.
Or, as Sisson said July 15: “We’re looking to tighten our ordinances to control this and control it as we see fit.”
The resolution requests a preliminary report from the planners within four months and a final report within nine months.
On Aug. 21, Supervisor Ruby Brabo asked if the board should direct the planners to look at specific aspects of a drilling operation. She read off a laundry list of items that included setbacks, proximity to schools, pipelines, lights, truck traffic and disposal of wastewater.
Gregory said the supervisors should not be too specific, but should let the “planning experts” do their job.
Brabo also mentioned a Sept. 19 workshop in Tappahannock that includes reports from officials in three Pennsylvania towns where hydraulic fracturing has taken place. She wondered if the supervisors should encourage the county Planning Commission to attend.
Sisson said the relevance of such a meeting depended on whether a person supports or opposes drilling.
“If you want to do it, you want to know how to do it the best way possible,” he said. “We’re not interested in going down that route.”
Brabo said she was interested in gathering the most information possible.
“Your way is different from the Planning Commission,” Grzeika said.
Sisson also said he didn’t want to ask the planners to form an opinion on drilling techniques. The board simply wants them to create an ordinance that gives them the “maximum control possible,” Sisson said.
Megan Gallagher, a conservation consultant who lives in northern Fauquier County and has worked with officials in the Taylorsville basin, said in March that counties can be as specific as they like with their land-use ordinances. They can say they don’t want trucks on the road at the same time as school buses or drilling operations during a farmer’s growing season.
She encouraged localities to take a “proactive approach,” adding that if counties “make it hard” for companies to do business in an area, “they’ll go where it’s easy.”