King George officials are going boldly where no other county in the Taylorsville basin has gone before, by imposing restrictions on fracking. The ground rules they approved this month would limit drilling for natural gas or oil to 9 percent of the land in the county.

Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, is the petroleum industry’s method of forcing water and chemicals into rock formations deep underground to extract trapped energy resources. It has been widely used elsewhere, in the much larger Marcellus basin, for example, that stretches from southern New York, through Pennsylvania and West Virginia into Southwest Virginia. It’s never been done in the Taylorsville basin—the Tidewater area east and south of Fredericksburg.

Fracking has been credited with increasing U.S. energy independence as well as reducing petroleum prices.

But at what cost? Residents of some areas where it’s prevalent say it brings with it noise, heavy truck traffic, destruction of the countryside and the threat of groundwater and runoff contamination. These are fracking byproducts that, with the well-being of their county and constituents in mind, King George officials are looking to limit.

Is this not the primary function of county leadership?

Industry officials have three ways of responding to a locality’s concerns. They tell local officials not to worry, that they won’t see any drilling activity in the foreseeable future. Or they offer industry-funded studies purporting that fracking presents few, if any, detrimental environmental effects. Or, if a locality acts to regulate them, they threaten litigation.

This is not a reassuring rhetorical recipe, and one that the King George Board of Supervisors is loathe to accept.

Ruby Brabo, chairwoman of King George board, is part of a statewide group that is studying drilling sites and regulations. She traveled with the group recently to Southwest Virginia, where she was told “not to worry”—that the industry has little interest in fracking in the Taylorsville basin. Supervisors were told the same thing at a meeting in King George last year.

After an Aug. 16 public hearing at which both pro- and anti-fracking views were aired, the supervisors voted unanimously to bar fracking within 750 feet of protected resources such as waterways, roads, buildings and school grounds. As a result, drilling would be permitted on 9 percent of the land in King George—an increase from the 4 percent stipulated in a previous draft of the ordinance.

Supervisor John Jenkins Jr. said fracking doesn’t fit in King George, and noted that the restrictions are necessary “if there’s a half a percent chance that our drinking water could be tainted.”

Supervisor Richard Granger called the county’s efforts to protect its people and resources “not an unreasonable expectation” of those who voted the board members into office.

As we have said repeatedly in this space, a county should be able to regulate any such obtrusive, industrial use of its land. King George has taken the lead among the five counties within the Taylorsville basin to do just that. And we would urge the basin’s other localities—Westmoreland, Caroline, Essex and King and Queen counties—to do their homework and to draft fracking standards as they see fit.

Some 84,000 acres within the basin are already leased by Texas-based Shore Exploration Corp., which has established a local headquarters office in Caroline. If that doesn’t indicate an “interest” in fracking here, it’s hard to say what would.

Special care must be taken in the low-lying areas of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Enormous amounts of money and effort are going into restoring the bay’s fragile ecosystem. Suggesting that fracking would not impose a risk here defies common sense.

Many places around the country have welcomed the jobs and landowner royalties that fracking provides. Despite federal studies deeming fracking safe, there are renewed concerns about whether fracking is responsible for earthquakes, explosions and contaminated drinking water.

King George County should be commended for its willingness to stand up to big corporations to protect its residents’ quality of life.

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