City Council hears natural gas drilling proposals

Sep. 04, 2013 @ 05:03 AM

Sanford City Council was the first municipal body to review a final set of recommendations dictating how local governments could potentially regulate the natural gas and oil industry, including hydraulic fracturing, Tuesday night.

Sanford Councilman Charles Taylor presented the Local Government Regulation Study Group recommendations to the council during its 7 p.m. meeting. Taylor, who is chairman of the group, said the subcommittee of the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission (MEC) put in countless hours to help retain some municipal authority. 

"There was a lot of controversy on local authority during this legislative session," Taylor said. "I think that this document tries to protect, within reason, those local authority rights we retain here and want to continue to retain."

The set of recommendations will be sent to MEC, the group tasked with establishing the regulations for natural gas drilling, and to the General Assembly.

"We have one time to get it right," Taylor said.

Sanford Mayor Cornelia Olive thanked Taylor for his commitment and for looking out for local governments during the regulation process.

The following study group recommendations were presented, via PowerPoint, by Taylor:

*Setbacks: Setbacks, the distance of which a building or structure is set back from a street, river, flood plan or other place deemed to need protection, need to be well detailed and used only for environmental, health and safety purposes.

* Noise, light and odor restrictions: Local governments should continue addressing light, odor and noise issue under current police authority, but a natural gas or oil operator could request a time-limited variance to exceed these ordinances. For example, a 72-hour variance to "accommodate reasonable industry operations."

* Water and Air Quality: There was no study group recommendation for water or air testing. Any wastewater that is discharged to a municipal wastewater collection system for treatment should meet local standards.   

* Emergency Preparedness: A regional response team should be comprised to address oil and gas related emergencies. The local community college system should provide training and instruction specific to oil and gas emergencies. Taylor said he has provided information about this to Central Carolina Community College President Bud Marchant. There are only two states that have similar courses and this would be a chance to bring in people from across the nation to receive safety training.

* Local Zoning Authority: Local governments should retain their existing zoning and land use authorities, but they cannot apply zoning ordinances to exclude oil and gas industry. It was recommended that zoning ordinances apply to surface land use and not to subsurface.

* Infrastructure: The study group recommended that municipalities consider weight limits on city-owned roads, truck routes and timing of truck operations enter into an agreement with oil and gas companies to ensure that municipal roads are maintained. It was also recommended that local governments encourage industry to re-use water on-site to reduce hauling traffic. Local authorities should consider taxing oil and gas operational equipment being stored on-site, taxing of joint surface and mineral rights at the time of property sale and taxing mineral rights when resources are exploited to recoup costs for infrastructure.

* Chemical Disclosure: Municipalities need to know the ingredients in the ground, but not necessarily know the percentages of said ingredients. Protecting trade secrets are vital, but the group "cannot and will not sacrifice health, safety and environmental concerns."

* Bonding: The study group recommends bonding to provide financial assurance for protection of surface owners, geophysical exploration, well plugging and abandonment and site reclamation.  

The full study group report is available online at www.sanfordherald.com.

In other matters, Council:

* Rezoned half an acre of land at 500 S. Third St. from residential-mixed to light industrial zoning district. Anson Harrington, the owner of the property and applicant, requested the rezoning to make all of his properties unified.

* Established a public hearing to voluntarily annex nearly three acres along Wilson Road at 7 p.m. Sept. 17.

* Appropriated $300 for a Child Passenger Safety Diversion Grant. The funds would pay for tear-off sheets that would be given to people who were issued a child passenger seat citation. The violators could then take the tear-off sheets to the Sanford Fire Department to find out how to secure child safety seats and then have the citation dropped.