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Fracking rules face Senate vote today, could go to governor today

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Sen. Chuck Hufstetler

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome

A bill regulating fracking in Georgia is expected to sail through the Senate today and head for Gov. Nathan Deal’s signature.

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, will be carrying the measure, which passed the House 162-1 early this month. Hufstetler was in Atlanta on Sunday, preparing for committee meetings and studying House Bill 205.

“It’s 18 pages,” he said. “There’s a technical part I’ll have to get some clarification on, but I don’t foresee any problems.”

Fracking — hydraulic fracturing — involves injecting liquid at high pressures into underground rocks to force open fissures and extract natural gas or oil. The Conasauga Shale Play, where gas reserves are plentiful in Alabama, extends into eight Northwest Georgia counties.

“That’s the only place fracking can take place in Georgia,” Hufstetler said. “We’re just trying to put some regulations in place that protect our water, particularly in Floyd, Gordon and Whitfield counties.”

HB 205 starts with a definition of fracking, an extraction method that didn’t exist when the state’s mining law was last updated in the 1970s.

It also provides for the creation of a regulatory board, once there have been 12 permit requests. There have only been three in the past decade — two were rejected and the third was withdrawn due to cost considerations.

The bill includes a statement that the General Assembly “should continue to encourage oil and gas exploration,” but not at the expense of other important natural resources such as water.

“It’s just common sense,” Hufstetler said. “It allows regulation of where they can drill, what chemicals they’re going to put in the ground, how they’re going to have to reclaim the land after they’re done.”

Local governments also would be able to adopt their own regulations on fracking within their jurisdiction. Floyd’s Unified Land Development Code contains protections for landowners from nearby drilling operations. But some counties, such as Chattooga, have no zoning ordinances.

HB 205 would, among other things, require a 30-day notice and opportunity for public comment before the Georgia Environmental Protection Division could issue a permit. It also provides for a state tax of $0.03 per barrel of oil and $0.01 per thousand cubic feet of natural gas — and lets local governments tax the extraction as well.

Calhoun Republican John Meadows authored the bill. Co-sponsors include Floyd’s delegation, Reps. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome; Eddie Lumsden, R-Armuchee; and Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville.