Floyd County

Communities around Northwest Georgia are urging the General Assembly to update the state’s fracking regulations and the Floyd County Commission is expected to sign on in December.

Coosa River Basin Initiative is asking for resolutions of support for a modernization of the Oil and Gas and Deep Well Drilling Act of 1975. The Rome-based nonprofit is working with the Southern Environmental Law Center on proposed legislation it hopes will be introduced in January.

“We’re trying to get a Stone Age law brought into the 21st century,” CRBI spokesman Joe Cook said Saturday.

So far, nine local governments have passed resolutions of support: Cave Spring, Rome, Gordon County, Calhoun, Chickamauga, Ringgold, Lyerly, Cedar­town and Chatsworth.

Floyd County Commissioners were slated to join them last week, but deferred action to their Dec. 13 meeting. Commissioners Rhonda Wallace and Scotty Hancock said they were ready to approve it, but Commissioner Irwin Bagwell convinced them to wait until after they speak with local lawmakers.

The board is expecting to meet Dec. 8 with the state delegation — Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome; Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome; Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville; and Rep. Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee — to discuss legislative priorities.

“It won’t hurt anything to wait,” Hancock said. “We can put it on our next agenda.”

County Manager Jamie McCord said Floyd County has zoning requirements in place to protect local landowners from nearby drilling operations, but that’s not the case in most of the state.

“We’re not trying to restrict enterprise, but we do have our wells and water sources to protect,” McCord noted.

Cook said some communities, such as Chattooga County to the north, have no zoning laws, which means property owners can lease their land for oil and gas drilling operations with no public notice. A permit is required from the state, but Georgia’s current law also is lacking provisions for public notice or comment.

“The neighbors wouldn’t know this is taking place, local governments wouldn’t know this is taking place,” he said. “An energy company could secure the right to drill in 15 days, without you knowing about it.”

CRBI officials have spoken to local lawmakers, Cook said, and most appear supportive of at least having a review. He said Rep. John Meadows, R-Calhoun, who chairs the powerful Rules Committee, has accepted their proposal and sent it on to legislative counsel to draft a bill.

“We’re looking for sponsors now,” Cook said. “I haven’t directly asked them yet, but I’m hoping some of our local delegates will sign on.”

The Georgia General Assembly starts its annual 40-day session at 10 a.m. on Jan. 9. The debate is likely to revolve around personal property rights on both sides of the issue.

“It is a new regulation, but it’s a regulation to protect people’s use and enjoyment of their property without having a drill rig set up within 300 feet of their property line,” Cook said.

The resolution adopted by Northwest Georgia governments references their location atop the Conasauga Shale Play, which is thought to contain as much as 625 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Oil and natural gas companies have been buying up mineral rights for about a decade and at least one exploratory well has identified natural gas reserves in Whitfield County.

Extraction has become cheaper through the use of fracking — injecting pressurized water or chemicals into the rock to fracture it and release the gas. However, opponents in other areas, such as Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, are arguing that fracking and horizontal drilling are linked to their water contamination and increased earthquakes.