When the Rome City Commission approved a resolution asking for tougher laws statewide on natural gas and oil drilling, commissioners also rejected a call by environmentalists to back a moratorium on drilling new wells.
City attorneys Andy Davis and Frank Beacham suggested several changes to the resolution Coosa River Basin Initiative spokesman Joe Cook had prepared for the commission.
The commission struck a reference to a moratorium on drilling new oil and gas wells.
Davis cautioned the city Monday night to “exercise caution” any time it considers a moratorium.
“A moratorium sends the message that you’re comfortable with the status quo and you don’t want to grow,” Davis said in an interview Tuesday.
The resolution specifically calls on the Georgia General Assembly to “amend existing state laws to better protect Georgia’s citizens, waterways and landscapes from the dangers of oil and natural gas extraction activities.”
It also calls for the General Assembly to allow local governments to enact ordinances “that more strictly regulate or restrict oil and natural gas explorations in their jurisdictions.”
Concerns about potential impacts from hydraulic fracturing, more often referred to as fracking, has prompted Rome’s Coosa River Basin Initiative to become proactive in seeking additional regulations.
Fracking is the process of injecting fluids, primarily water, into the earth at high pressure to fracture rock and free trapped oil or gas.
Oklahoma-based Buckeye Exploration was actively attempting to lease property in the northern part of Floyd County along the Oostanaula River in late 2015.
Company president Jerry Spalvieri said Buckeye was not involved in fracking, but was simply obtaining mineral rights to drill test wells.
Cook told commissioners geologists have estimated that more than 600 trillion cubic feet of natural gas lies in the Conasauga Shale field, which stretches from Alabama to Tennessee across the Coosa Valley.
Relatively low prices for natural gas don’t offer much of an incentive for exploratory drilling right now, said Cook, but Georgia needs to update its 1975 Oil and Gas and Deep Drilling Act.
Commissioner Bill Irmscher challenged Cook on the dangers of fracking and said the industry has created hundreds of thousands of jobs in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Louisiana.
Cook reiterated the need for additional regulations to safeguard property owners and water supplies.
“All we’re looking for are some common sense regulations,” he added.
“We do have some vested interest in what happens upstream (on the Oostanaula River),” said City Manager Sammy Rich. The river provides a portion of the city’s drinking water.
The Cave Spring City Council is considering a resolution mirroring Rome’s.
Cook said Chickamauga is the only other city in the region to adopt a similar resolution. He said Dalton and Whitfield County have not expressed any support for the project, in part because Dalton Utilities is a natural gas marketer.