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Fracking regs await governor's signature, law on mining and drilling is set for its first update in 40 years

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Georgia Capitol

Legislation setting rules for fracking operations in Georgia is awaiting the signature of Gov. Nathan Deal.

Fracking — hydraulic fracturing — is a method of drilling for natural gas and oil by forcing high-pressure water mixed with sand and chemicals into underground rock.

"The regulations haven't been updated since the 1970s and fracking didn't exist then," said Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, who carried House Bill 205 through the Senate in a 51 to 0 vote.

Only eight counties in Northwest Georgia, including Floyd, are expected to have the deposits, which are found in shale formations.

The measure was sponsored by Rep. John Meadows, R-Calhoun, and co-sponsored by local Republican Reps. Katie Dempsey of Rome, Eddie Lumsden of Armuchee and Christian Coomer of Cartersville.

Hufstetler said Sunday he expects Deal to sign the bill, which is aimed at protecting water resources from contamination. The effective date is July 1.

A number of landowners in the region have been approached over the last decade to sell mineral rights to their property. Under the updated regulations, a company planning to use fracking to explore for gas or oil will have to give public notice of its intent.

"Before this, somebody could have just gone and done it," Hufstetler said.

Floyd County regulates drilling through its zoning ordinance and requires a special use permit. However most counties have few restrictions.

The legislation does not affect a local government's authority.

In addition to public notice, there's a 30-day public comment period before the state could issue a permit. The company would have to disclose where the bore hole would go, along with the source of the water it planned to use and provisions for disposal of the wastewater.

Additionally, the company would have to identify nearby groundwater sources and do quality monitoring before and after the operation.

They'll also have to disclose the chemicals they'll be using, although there are provisions to protect trade secrets. Only the head of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and commissioner of Public Health will get the information.

The DNR board also has the option of drawing up further regulations.

"Safeguards are in place, and there's also a little bit of revenue for local governments," Hufstetler said.

The state would get a tax of 3 cents per barrel of oil extracted and 1 cent for every thousand cubic feet of gas. Cities and counties could enact local levies of up to 9 cents per barrel of oil and 2 cents per thousand feet of gas.