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Supervisors to develop instructions regarding fracking regs

The Board of Supervisors is slated to discuss county zoning ordinances in regard to fracking.
Fracking refers to the process whereby chemicals and water, or possibly nitrogen, are forced deep into the ground to fracture the shale rock strata as a means of releasing natural gas to be mined.

That board discussion is scheduled to take place during a special work session meeting on Aug. 21, in addition to numerous other items on the planned agenda.

The purpose of the fracking discussion is to come up with a statement, as suggested by Chairman Joe Grzeika, to supply parameters to the Planning Commission for changes in the zoning ordinances. Supervisors intend to ask the Planning Commission to review the county’s land use ordinances as suggested earlier this year by county attorney Eric Gregory.

Supervisors want to lessen the potential adverse impacts of possible future fracking should it come to the county.
There are currently no permit applications filed for gas or oil drilling in the region.

State officials have said that if fracking comes to the Taylorsville Basin, it will be subject to a lengthy process prior to permit approval by the state’s Department of Mines,Minerals and Energy (DMME).

If a driller were actually permitted in the future by the state to frack in the county, the driller would also have to obtain a special exception permit for the mining activity from the county.

FRACKING CANNOT BE PREVENTED BY ZONING ORDINANCES
The topic was discussed and the special meeting set during a meeting last month on July 15.

Grzeika brought up the topic and suggested the board discuss fracking and develop an information statement for the Planning Commission and his colleagues agreed.

Grzeika also said, “I’m not out to prevent or induce fracking. I want to look at it from the land use side of the equation. At this point, we do have an attorney general’s opinion that says we cannot prevent it.”

He added, “And I’m not interested in spending taxpayer dollars to go challenge that (opinion) right now. If somebody else is going to go do that, let them go do that. But we can focus right now getting our land use ordinances tightened up to make sure that if in fact it were ever to come, we’ve thought through what we would do and what conditions we would want in place to protect our community.”

A January 2013 advisory opinion by then- Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli addressed the question of zoning and fracking.

In the opinion, Cuccinelli said Virginia law allows localities to control the location and siting of oil and gas drilling operations, “that are reasonable in scope and consistent with” state law. 

The opinion went on to say that “a local governing body cannot ban altogether the exploration for, and the drilling of, oil and natural gas within the locality’s boundaries.”

COUNTY ORDINANCES
County attorney Eric Gregory reported in January on the county’s existing zoning ordinances, saying they allow exploratory drilling for oil and/or natural gas by a required special exception permit in the A-1 and A-2 districts.

He reminded them of the process for review, and also pointed out some deficiencies where he thought the ordinances could be strengthened.

Special exception permits require two advertised public hearings, first one by the Planning Commission and the second by the Board of Supervisors.

Special exception permits would require site plans, ingress and egress plans, drill site plans, erosion and sediment control plans, in addition to a required environmental impact assessment and operations plan, which must first be filed with DMME and then also filed with a special exception permit application.

King George’s existing ordinance limits drill sites to four acres, with no drill site to be located within 500-feet of an occupied residence. Additional setbacks for drill sites away from schools and churches and possibly other structures and uses might be added.

Gregory also had said the board has the authority to impose additional other requirements into the zoning ordinance to address noise, dust, and traffic impacts.

Gregory also had said the existing zoning ordinance only addresses drilling sites and does not currently address compression stations. That’s because fracking technology has moved ahead of the county’s ordinance. Compression stations, which are notoriously loud and run night and day, are often utilized in natural gas drilling.

When he gave his report last January, Gregory noted the complexity of regulatory rules in terms of the potential zoning regulation possibilities and in regard to potential environmental impacts.

He also said there may be other kinds of related issues in terms of the influx of residents brought in by drillers, including those having to do with temporary and/or transient residents and their impacts on such things as emergency services, law enforcement, schools, etc.

Gregory may have more information as to what other changes could be allowed in the county’s ordinances regarding fracking. He is currently participating on a state advisory panel, called the DMME Gas and Oil Regulatory Advisory Panel. That panel has so far met three times, on June 4, July 2, and July 23. Gregory is likely to provide a report on the panel’s discussions and findings at an upcoming county board meeting.

Phyllis Cook

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