Controversial natural gas drilling ordinance set for Tuesday vote – TriCities.com: News

Posted: Saturday, September 6, 2014 10:09 pm | Updated: 10:54 pm, Sat Sep 6, 2014.

ALLIE ROBINSON GIBSON | BRISTOL HERALD COURIER

ABINGDON, Va. — The decision on whether to explicitly permit natural gas well drilling in Washington County is expected to be made this week.

Years of planning, draft ordinances and public meetings with vocal commentary from both sides of the issue boil down to a public hearing Tuesday at the Washington County Board of Supervisors’ regular meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. The hearing is about a proposed ordinance change, which would permit, by special exception, gas well drilling in areas zoned A1 and A2, agriculture, county-wide.

Gas well drilling in Washington County

Gas wells have been drilled in Virginia since the late 1800s, and in Washington County since the 1930s, according to a study on oil and gas wells published by the U.S. Geological Survey in 1956.

In Washington County, commercial gas production was established in 1931 after the Early Grove gas field was drilled on the Washington and Scott county line.

Gas wells were drilled and produced successfully in the years since then until about the 1980s, Abingdon geologist Charles Bartlett told the Bristol Herald Courier. There are no active wells in the county now, according to the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, nor are there any current applications on file to drill any. The DMME is the state agency tasked with regulating coal, oil and gas extraction in Virginia.

The county started reviewing its natural gas policies — or lack thereof — a few years ago when a company, Southeastern Land and Mineral, wanted to drill a few wells in the Benhams area, where Bartlett said there is gas potential. They got approval from the DMME’s Gas and Oil Division at the time, but none of the leases signed then are current.

The county’s Planning Commission worked for more than a year on a draft ordinance, which went to the Board of Supervisors this summer. That ordinance would have limited geographically where drilling could occur — in an overlay zone — and also provided for certain environmental protections.

Board of Supervisors members quickly scrapped the ordinance, instead proposing to allow gas drilling county-wide by special-exception permit. The Planning Commission voted Aug. 25 to reject the Board of Supervisors’ suggested change and keep the land use ordinance as-is — that is, without expressly permitting for gas well drilling.

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