With unanimous vote, Virginia county establishes strict parameters for future fracking

The Rappahannock River in King George County is one of many areas now better protected from industrial gas development and fracking thanks to new land-use ordinances. (© Charles Shoffner)

All four members of Virginia’s King George County Board of Supervisors at Tuesday’s public hearing voted to enact new land use laws to restrict oil and gas exploration, including hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” The measures adopted protect 91 percent of the county from fracking.

With the vote, supervisors said they were representing the wishes of the county residents, who asked them to protect not only their drinking water but also the rural character and natural resources of their communities and landscape.

Residents first became concerned more than two years ago after learning that a Texas oil and gas company had leased rights to drill for gas under more than 85,000 acres throughout several counties in the Taylorsville Basin, a section of earth deep underground thought to contain oil or gas deposits. Both county officials and residents were wary of blindly introducing a new industry like gas development with fracking to King George County, which lies east of Fredericksburg and is part of the Chesapeake Bay’s Northern Neck.

So, in late 2013, SELC and Friends of the Rappahannock, with other partners, began working to help educate local officials and residents about potential impacts of gas drilling on sensitive regions like Virginia’s Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula. These risks include damage to the county’s water resources, like the Potomac aquifer and the Rappahannock River, and poor air quality. These groups also began helping counties identify options to avoid or minimize these risks.

The years of research, deliberations, and public comments culminated in the changes adopted Tuesday, which achieve the county’s goals through several means. The updated comprehensive plan directs that, going forward, the county will “discourage the location of mining and oil and/or gas operations, drilling and development in significant and sensitive rural, agricultural, and residential areas.”

The vote also amended the county’s zoning ordinance by requiring that gas wells be set back at least 1,000 feet from public groundwater supply wells and 750 feet from tidal wetlands and other important waters, occupied buildings, and public roads. As a result, only 9 percent of the county is available for drilling and the associated noise, traffic, and pollution.

Kristin Davis, an SELC attorney, said the restrictions adopted by King George County help protect not only the landscape, but also the character, residents, water supplies, and other natural resources of King George County.

“This has been a long time coming. The Board of Supervisors has studied this problem thoroughly and its decision to restrict drilling is supported by input from the community and numerous studies of the industry’s impacts in other places,” she said. “We encourage other localities to take this same kind of informed and thoughtful look at how gas drilling could affect their landscape.”

In addition to supporting King George and other counties in the Taylorsville Basin, SELC and Friends of the Rappahannock continue working to help improve Virginia’s statewide drilling regulations. 

Map of Virginia's King George County

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