MEC Study Groups: Local Government Regulations

The Local Government Regulations Study Group of the NC Mining and Energy Commission met in Sanford Wednesday morning, January 16, 2013.The meeting included two presentations: a joint report from the NC League of Municipalities and the NC Association of County Commissioners on Extra-Territorial Jurisdiction (ETJ), and a progress report from a impact study committee of the NC Department of Transportation. Though the presentations were informative, the study group failed to address the most pressing questions in terms of local government regulation: can a local government (municipality or county) regulate when, where, and how mineral extraction may occur in their jurisdiction?

Here is the portion of SB 820 that established the MEC and charges them with studying local government regulations:

SECTION 2.(k) The Mining and Energy Commission, in conjunction with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the North Carolina League of Municipalities, and the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, shall examine the issue of local government regulation of oil and gas exploration and development activities, and the use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing for that purpose. The Commission shall formulate recommendations that maintain a uniform system for the management of such activities, which allow for reasonable local regulations, including required setbacks, infrastructure placement, and light and noise restrictions, that do not prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting oil and gas exploration and development activities, and the use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing for that purpose, or otherwise conflict with State law. The Commission shall report its findings and recommendations, including legislative proposals, to the Joint Legislative Commission on Energy Policy, created under Section 6(a) of this act, and the Environmental Review Commission on or before January 1, 2013.

So, whatever recommendations for reasonable local regulations this group makes, it should apply to the areas in the ETJ of the municipalities that adopt such regulations. {ETJ is a planning authority for municipalities to implement planning and zoning beyond municipal boundaries to better plan for growth and extension of services.} The General Assembly recently restricted the ETJ procedures for municipalities, which, as I recall, is primarily triggered by the zoning ordinance of the county (if it has one). Note: Lee County and the City of Sanford have developed a unified development ordinance and have a joint planning program. The question remains, though, whether state allowances for mineral extraction will trump local regulations. Study group member Richard Whisnant from the UNC School of Government stated that the work required of this group could be more feasible by looking over the list of issues to address in their recommendations, a list that to my knowledge has not been shared with the public, by identifying current regulations as they pertain to local government and addressing the gaps of those regulations.

The NC DOT is studying the potential impacts of fracking in central NC through documenting the condition of highways and bridges (and other related transportation issues like buses, school, safety, public transportation) in the region, but most telling is the exchange they have established with the Pennsylvania DOT. In working with PennDOT, the study committee had members go to Pennsylvania and observe the kind of traffic a fracking site generates. And they examined the impact of a fracking well from pre-drilling to reclamation in terms of truck traffic. Each truck carries a legal load as they transport the well development material (gravel, cement), drilling rig, the fracking equipment itself, and finally with the reclamation. Here is a breakdown of truck traffic, with the duration of each phase, entering and leaving the fracking site:

  • Development of the well: 4 – 6 weeks, 300 – 400 trucks.
  • Drilling the well: 4 – 5 weeks, 150 – 200 trucks
  • Fracking: 7 – 10 days, 8,000 – 12,000 trucks. Note: the truck traffic is constant because the fracking itself is constant. Several trailers on site are dedicated to running generators to maintain the necessary pressure.
  • Reclamation: 3 – 4 weeks, much less truck traffic, though still regular visits by service vehicles and/or trucks to haul off spent water. Note: the DOT staff person was calling this phase reclamation, though I think she is actually referring to the stage where the well is producing after it has been fracked. Reclamation would be the stage after that in which the site is restored to as best possible to its pre-drilling state.

The DOT is looking at these impacts and planning to address priority areas to minimize impacts. Chairman Womack pointed out that the study committee at DOT should also look at the potential of drilling supplies being shipped via rail to the region so the wear and tear may not be as great. He also recommended that the DOT partner with industry to better understand transportation needs to better develop a regional plan to alleviate “choke” points. Remember how when a well is being fracked, all those thousands of trucks entering and leaving the site must do so constantly.

Where these two presentations overlapped is the subject of road maintenance and vehicle restrictions. Where a municipality owns roads, the municipality may enforce speed, weight, and size/height restrictions on roads, and the time when such vehicles may travel in town. The state will otherwise be maintaining roads and will identify the resources needed to do so (to be collected from trucking fees? as part of mining fees and taxes? that remains to be seen).

Back to the charge of this study group: note that the original timeframe for getting recommendations to the General Assembly by way of the MEC was by January 1, 2013. I heard mention a couple times from Chairman Womack that this study group has until October this year. The meeting began with Chairman Womack stating the ground rules for public participation: that members of the study group may interact with those invited to present to the group, but that members of the public should pass written questions of comments to the chair of the meeting, and time permitting, those items may be discussed should the chair choose. Let me encourage folks here to write the study group chair, Charles Taylor, or vice-chair, Dr. Marva Price, in professional and respectful language with the issues the group should discuss.

Their next meeting will be in Chatham County on February 15th (with a back-up date of February 18th): specific location to be determined.

-BT

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3 thoughts on “MEC Study Groups: Local Government Regulations

  1. rgt7670 Post author

    The meeting in Sanford February 8th is for the Compulsory Pooling Study Group. Different topic area than local regulations, but equally as important to be there (arguably more important!).

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Some grassroots activities coming up | NC Triassic Basins water & shale gas

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