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Gas and oil industry: No one’s ‘ready to drop a drill bit in King George County’

As the King George Board of Supervisors discussed a zoning ordinance last week that would put severe restrictions on oil and gas drillers–to the point they probably wouldn’t want to do business in the county–several interesting things were said about the timing of possible activity.

“In reality, I don’t believe it’s coming to King George,” Supervisor Joe Grzeika said of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, being done in the region.

He said the “negative PR” that would accompany drilling would discourage big companies from taking the risk. He also said industry icons such as Exxon wouldn’t attempt drilling for the “small amount of potential gas that would be here.”

The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated there’s 1.06 trillion cubic feet of gas in the Taylorsville basin, a five-county area east and south of Fredericksburg. That may sound like a lot until it’s compared with the Marcellus shale region in Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia.

USGS estimates that area has 410 trillion cubic feet of gas.

In related news, You think the stock market is crazy? Look at oil prices.

A lawyer representing the Virginia Oil and Gas Association told supervisors at the board’s meeting Tuesday that no one with his group is “ready to drop a drill bit in King George County.”

“We believe that it’s unlikely at any time in the near future, anybody would be pursuing that,” said David Clarke, attorney for VOGA.

That’s why Clarke and Michael Ward, a lawyer for the Virginia Petroleum Council, described King George’s proposed changes as premature.

Supervisor Ruby Brabo took issue with that. For almost two years, she said she’s traveled across the state, attending every workshop and panel discussion. She’s also led town-hall meetings that have brought people from the Shenandoah Valley or towns in New York to share their experiences with fracking.

“If there is no interest in drilling, then the actions of the oil and gas industry seem very contrary to that since they’re so very, very vocal and worried about us implementing this type of ordinance,” she said.

As it turned out, the supervisors delayed a vote on changing its zoning ordinance. Chairman Jim Howard wanted board members to review all the information presented at the public hearing and possibly tweak the language in its proposal.

Some in the audience, which numbered about 50 people, were noticeably disappointed by the inaction. Twelve of 25 speakers had urged the supervisors to pass an outright ban on fracking.

Others, including environmental groups, supported the proposed changes to the zoning ordinance.

Among the proposed restrictions: No wells could be drilled within 1,000 feet of any public road, occupied building or creek or waterway. That means only 4 percent of county land would be eligible for drilling.

Drill sites also would be limited to 4 acres, under the proposal, and holes could not be bored within 100 feet of a property line. Each company interested in drilling would have to apply for a special exception permit and submit extensive information.

Jack Green, the county’s director of community development, said repeatedly as he explained the proposal that the county put the same conditions in its oil and drilling ordinance as it expected from other types of industrial activity.

The two oil and gas industry representatives told the supervisors the proposed changes weren’t needed because state agencies already have enough regulatory measures in place. And, they stressed, the industry has a good record of safety in Virginia, as it provides more than 18,000 jobs in the state and more than $190 million in state and local taxes, according to 2011 figures.

Plus, as Ward mentioned in an email he sent the county–which looked like a legal brief, not a piece of correspondence–King George “may be exposed to costly and unnecessary litigation if it moves forward with the proposed amendments.”

Before the supervisors took comments from the public Tuesday, resident Sylvia Hudson asked each board member to state his or her opinion on fracking.

Dale Sisson Jr. didn’t attend the meeting, but has said in the past he doesn’t favor fracking. Supervisors Brabo and Cedell Brooks Jr. said the same, although Brabo said she believes it can be done successfully in certain areas of the country.

“I don’t believe King George County is one of them because of our proximity to the Chesapeake Bay,” she said. “The risks are too great.”

Chairman Howard skirted the question, saying that counties don’t have the power to say yes or no to fracking or any other type of drilling.

“The only thing we have to do with is land use,” he said. “Through ordinances, we can decide where a rig or drill can go.”

Grzeika said he wasn’t for or against fracking. “I’m here to make sure if it ever is done, it can be done safely,” he said.

Several speakers at the public hearing praised King George officials for being ahead of the curve–and being the first in the Taylorsville basin to address fracking through land-use ordinances.

More than 84,000 acres of land have been leased for possible drilling in the basin that includes Caroline, Essex, King George, King and Queen and Westmoreland counties.

No one from Shore Exploration and Production Corp., the Dallas company that’s expressed interest in bringing drilling to the area, spoke at Tuesday’s meeting.

Cathy Dyson: 540.374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

This article was written by Cathy Dyson from The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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