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Laws on fracking discussed in King George

King George County’s current zoning ordinances that deal with oil and gas drilling are vague and ambiguous, said County Attorney Eric Gregory.

They address how a company would get permission for exploratory drilling, but don’t dictate what would happen if oil or gas were found and the company wanted to set up production wells.

That’s why Gregory recommends that the King George Planning Commission take a closer look at ordinances to expand and clarify them—before the county gets to the point it’s asked to review special exception permits for drilling.

“It’s quite an issue that needs a good deal of development and study, I believe,” Gregory said.

King George supervisors had asked the county attorney to look at current ordinances because a Texas-based company is proceeding with plans to drill for oil and natural gas in the Taylorsville Basin south of Fredericksburg. The company, Shore Exploration, has leased 84,000 acres of land in the Middle Peninsula, including 10,443 acres in King George.

Residents across the region have expressed concerns about a possible process used to extract natural gas. That’s called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and the method sends chemicals into the ground to fracture the rocks and release the gas.

Residents fear the process would contaminate groundwater—and at Thursday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, five people shared remarks similar to that of Melissa Endrizzi, who lives in Hopyard Farm.

“I’m highly against it,” she said, adding she didn’t want the noise, water contamination, lower property values or threat of earthquakes that the process may bring with it. “I just don’t see the positive in it.”

Supervisors agreed that they had concerns and that’s why they wanted to start gathering information to see what the county can and cannot allow in terms of ordinances.

The board also plans to hear a presentation from a state geologist and representative from the Department of Mines, Mineral and Energy. Such a session was scheduled this week, but was postponed until Feb. 4 because of the weather.

Gregory reported on his research of existing ordinances Tuesday night. He said the regulations have been in place since the 1980s, when Shore first came to the area and operated several exploratory drills. The company was looking for oil then, and the ordinances address the exploratory nature of the oil wells that Shore drilled.

The ordinances don’t begin to address the process of fracking, supervisors said, because the technique wasn’t used then. Likewise, the county attorney said the policies don’t speak to a “host of issues” involved with natural gas drilling.

These include compression stations, which are part of natural gas wells and generate noise as loud as a jet engine, Supervisor Ruby Brabo said. They also run 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The county would want to address where these stations would be built, how far they should be from homes and schools, as well as other issues particular to natural gas drilling.

Gregory also pointed out that he had checked with other counties that dealt with drilling issues, including Rockingham and Washington counties. These localities spent up to two years developing their policies.

Supervisor Chairman Joe Grzeika agreed that it’s a good idea for the county’s Planning Commission to study its zoning ordinances in regard to drilling. But he wanted to wait until after the Feb. 4 meeting, when the board gets more information on the state process involved, to narrow down what it would like commission members to address.

“We need to have some consensus on what we want them to look at and what our concerns are so that they don’t start over with the whole enchilada, if you will,” Grzeika said.

Supervisors also said they wanted to check with the state code to see what they can and cannot allow.

As the county’s ordinance is written currently, the drilling of production wells would not be allowed because it’s not explicitly authorized in the zoning.

Resident Kelly Evans said she hoped the board would take the time to research all aspects of the fracking process.

“I think there’s a lot of people who are very concerned about this,” she said. “I hope you all will take the time to listen.”

Supervisors said they’ll hold a town hall meeting after they hear the report from state officials. That town hall hasn’t been scheduled, but Brabo plans her own meeting on Jan. 29, from 7 to 9 p.m., at the Dahlgren campus of the University of Mary Washington. Scheduled speakers include former Del. Albert Pollard, Rockingham County officials and a representative from the Southern Law Center.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

 

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