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Supervisors to review state laws, regs and ordinances on fracking

The King George Board of Supervisors has directed County Attorney Eric Gregory to prepare a report for the board on the status of state laws, regulations and county ordinances in regard to fracking. Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, is a process whereby chemicals and water are forced deep into the ground to fracture the shale rock strata to release natural gas.

The discussion on the topic was likely prompted by calls and emails from constituents in the county who are hearing about recent activity by commercial companies to acquire more mineral rights leases from residents in King George and the region, as they did previously in the mid-1980s.

At that time, the exploratory drilling for oil was halted in 1992, after companies failed to find oil in commercial quantities on three farms in King George, according to archived news reports from the Baltimore Sun. At the time, it was said by oil company representatives that natural gas might be more likely to be found underground in this area.

The same companies are talking about going forward to investigate the likelihood of finding large quantities of gas and oil.

Since that time, new technology, including hydraulic fracturing, has provided the ability for drillers to recover natural gas more economically if it is available in commercial quantities.

Environmentalists say the fracking process consumes huge amounts of water and that the chemicals used can pollute aquifers.

King George’s entire water supply is dependent on wells fed from underground aquifers.

Ruby Brabo brought the topic up during her board member report at last week’s meeting of the Board of Supervisors on Oct. 15.

Brabo said, “As the discussion of fracking in this region becomes more prevalent, I was wondering what role, if any, this Board shall play regarding the possibility of fracking in our county.”

Chairman Dale Sisson suggested that current state law could be looked into, saying, “That’s a topic we may want to ask Eric to go back to the Code and at least tell us as a Dillon Rule state, what the state allows to do, or not do there.”

Being a Dillon Rule state translates to mean that localities only have the authority to take action on matters that are specifically spelled out in state law.

“I don’t know how imminent the threat or concern is, I’m certainly hearing the rumblings, as well. Some of that may be some real discussion and some of it’s just some fears,” Sisson said. He added, “But either way, we need to know how to be prepared to address it.”

He asked Gregory to do the research to provide Supervisors the guidance on what they can and cannot do.
Brabo also said she’d been in contact with a member of the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors, which had successfully dissuaded a company from going forward with seeking a mining permit due to strict liability conditions inserted into a proposed special exception permit.

Brabo said she would get and share additional information from Rockingham on the permit language.
She added, “We should at least know what our ordinances permit or don’t permit.”

Joe Grzeika also agreed, saying, “I think it’s key that we look not only at our ordinances, but what the state Code is going to allow us to do or not do. Both have to be coupled, because zoning ordinances, county to county, are different.”

Gregory agreed to provide a report, saying, “I’ll prepare an assessment about what the state of the law is, and then the board will be better prepared.”

Such a report is expected to be presented publicly at an upcoming meeting of the Board of Supervisors.

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