Mon07282014

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King George holding fracking info session on June 12

The King George Board of Supervisors will hold a fracking information session for the community on June 12, 7 p.m., at King George High School.

The information session is expected to be a town hall-style meeting lasting about two hours, with a section providing an opportunity for members of the public to ask questions.

Supervisors expect to hear from two state agencies, the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy  (DMME) and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), along with Shore Exploration & Production Corporation, and the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Former state delegate Albert Pollard is also expected to be on hand to kick off the presentations by providing an overview on fracking, as he has done at various other such local meetings.

Shore Exploration is the Texas-based company holding mineral rights leases on at least 10,443 acres in King George, according to a search of county records this past summer by the organization, Friends of the Rappahannock.

To get caught up on some previous presentations in the area, the county has posted several documents on its website. To get directly to the page listing these documents, go to: www.king-george.va.us/news-and-announcements/announcements/taylorsville-basin---bos-meeting-powerpoint-slides-feb-4-2014.php.

PROCESS TO BE REVIEWED
The actual permit for any mining is approved by the state and the environmental aspect is likewise controlled by the state’s regulations.

Chairman Joe Grzeika has also said the info session would likely include information about the county’s process for obtaining a special exception permit, which is required for any mining operation in the county.
Special exception permits require two advertised public hearings, first one by the Planning Commission and the second by the Board of Supervisors.

GWRC BRIEF ON NATURAL GAS EXTRACTION
Supervisor Jim Howard reported at the board meeting last week on May 20 that the regional planning agency, the George Washington Regional Commission (GWRC), had put together a brief on request from reps from the King George board.

The brief noted that none of the GWRC’s five member jurisdictions have land use regulations in place regarding oil and natural gas extraction.

A locality claiming that oil and gas extraction is not allowed since it is not addressed in its local zoning ordinances could be expected to lead to court action and interpretation over extraction rights.

The GWRC brief adds, “Virginia Oil & Gas Act prohibits local governments from placing a moratorium on, or banning, energy development.” (Code of Virginia §45.1-361.5)

The brief recommends two regulatory approaches for consideration, with each requiring amendments to the zoning ordinance.

In either case, it is also recommended that appropriate Comprehensive Plan amendments should also be made prior to ordinance modifications. These amendments should lay out the locality’s specific vision and goals of natural gas extraction activities, if permitted, along with issues of concern.

Of the two potential regulatory actions posed by GWRC, one would be to permit gas extraction in an agricultural or industrial district by special exception permit. That option allows the county to place conditions on the permit to mitigate the anticipated adverse impacts of the extraction activities.

The second option for consideration from GWRC would be to create a gas and oil zoning overlay district. Creating a separate zoning district could allow the gas extraction activity to be permitted by-right but could subject the rezoning request to proffers, as with other rezoning requests.

As part of the creation of a gas and oil zoning overlay district, GWRC suggests the county should also consider the development of proffer guidelines for the district to set the jurisdiction’s expectations regarding the types of proffers.

The idea would be to provide the county the ability to mitigate adverse impacts by requiring the mining operation to pay for such things as damage to roads and other costs such as emergency services, law enforcement, schools, etc., due to the influx of residents brought in by drillers to work the mine.
These potential options are likely to be explored further.

ORDINANCES EXPECTED TO COME UNDER REVIEW
Supervisors had already agreed earlier this year that a review of county ordinances should take place in order to be in a position to mitigate some of the risks of fracking.

County attorney Eric Gregory had reported in detail to the Board of Supervisors in January on the county’s existing zoning ordinances, saying they address exploratory drilling for oil and/or natural gas by a required special exception permit in the A-1 and A-2 districts.

Gregory said the special exception permit process requires site plans, ingress and egress plans, drill site plans, erosion and sediment control plans. It also requires an environmental impact assessment and operation plan, which must first be filed with DMME and then also filed with a special exception permit application.

In King George, drill sites are currently limited to four acres, with no drill site within 500 feet of an occupied residence.

Gregory had also said the board had the authority to impose additional requirements, if incorporated into the zoning ordinance, to address noise, dust, traffic impacts, setbacks for drill sites from schools, occupied residences as already included, and churches.

Gregory had also cautioned that the existing county zoning ordinance does not currently address compression stations, but only addresses drilling sites. Compression stations are often utilized in natural gas drilling, run 24/7 and are extremely loud and disruptive to the current quality of life, particularly if not enclosed in a building.

Supervisors had agreed with Gregory’s suggestion that following their fact-finding, the county’s ordinance should be sent to the county Planning Commission after the board agrees to parameters it would want the Commission to address in regard to amendments to the ordinance.  

In regard to potential fracking in the county, Grzeika had said earlier this year, “If they’re permitted by the state, we want to have our special exception permit requirements articulated so we protect ourselves as much as we can from the industrialization of our rural agricultural community. I think that’s really what our job.” He added, “Our focus really needs to be sharp.”

Phyllis Cook

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