PITTSBORO — The Chatham County Board of Commissioners potentially could slow the arrival of hydraulic fracturing in the county at its meeting Monday with a local ordinance imposing a two-year moratorium on the practice.
“Part of the county’s rationale is that we’re about to embark on a comprehensive land use plan for Chatham County,” said Commissioner Diana Hales. “It takes several years. So we feel very strongly that we need a moratorium for Chatham County to get its ordinances in place and our comprehensive land-use plan before any fracking takes place in this county.”
According to N.C. General Statute 113-415.1, state law preempts any county and local government ordinances that “place any restriction or condition upon oil and gas exploration, development, and production activities and use of horizontal drilling or hydraulic fracturing for that purpose within any county, city, or other political subdivision.”
But Chatham County Attorney Richard “Jep” Rose said the county’s ordinance, if enacted, would not be subject to preemption.
“It’s a pretty narrow channel,” Rose said of avoiding preemption. “But we feel we pretty much entered it as far as a temporary moratorium is concerned. We’re not prohibiting [fracking]. It’s just a chance to let us get on our feet, look at the process and make some suggestions.”
Rose said the ordinance would expire in August 2017 at the latest, but that it could expire before then depending on how quickly things moved with Chatham’s land use plan.
Robert Josey, an attorney with the N.C. Oil and Gas Commission, said it would be up to the commission to determine whether the ordinance was valid, but that a number of factors must be met before it was preempted.
“So what would happen,” he said, “would be that an oil and gas company would come in. They would have to file all [the proper] permits, at which point the [Oil and Gas Commission] would have to determine whether they would get these permits. If they didn’t give them because of this local ordinance, they would have to have a special hearing to determine whether state law preempts that ordinance.”
Josey declined to comment on whether the commission would preempt the proposed moratorium and said the commission’s decision also could be appealed in court, further delaying the process for the first company attempting fracking in Chatham County.
“I would feel fairly confident,” Josey said, “in saying that after one company came through and the Oil and Gas Commission preempted the ordinance in that one case, then other companies would not have to go through the same process.”
Rose said Chatham County has not had any permit applications for fracking to date.
Lee County also has not received any permit applications, and Lee County Manager John Crumpton said the commissioners were waiting until after the public information meeting on Aug. 24 regarding changes to the county’s unified development ordinance before taking similar action.
“We talked about [a moratorium] in July when the commissioners looked at changing the UDO to make drilling more restricted in the county,” Crumpton said. “We really haven’t done anything formal yet. It’s kind of just wait and see what happens on the 24th.”
Hales said the Chatham commissioners held a public hearing last month and conducted its own research before moving forward with the moratorium, which they will vote on at 6 p.m. on Monday at the historic courthouse on Hillsboro Street.
“We have done our due diligence and our legal investigation,” Hales said. “And that is why we are proceeding. We feel that as local government caretakers, we have a responsibility to protect our citizens and do what we can to protect the health and security of our community. This moratorium will allow us to dig very deep, and we’re hoping we get a good crowd out there on Monday.”
This article was written by Zach Potter from The Sanford Herald, N.C. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.