Chatham County

Why Chatham won’t frack for at least another year

Given the underlying geology of the region, Chatham and Lee counties are the most likely spots for fracking in the Piedmont’s Deep River Basin, a consultant says.
Given the underlying geology of the region, Chatham and Lee counties are the most likely spots for fracking in the Piedmont’s Deep River Basin, a consultant says. The News and Observer

Fracking is off the table for at least another year in Chatham County after the county commissioners voted to extend a moratorium on oil and gas development.

Commissioners say they need more time to evaluate state regulations and to draft county ordinances to protect air and water quality.

State law prohibits local governments from banning drilling outright, but allows for temporary moratoriums. Chatham approved a two-year pause in August 2015 to study the impact of fracking and consider how the county could regulate it given the limitations of state statutes.

The new extension, approved last week, will run through August 2018. During the next year, commissioners say they hope to gain clarity from state officials on what rules will govern hydraulic fracturing.

Ten residents spoke at a public hearing, all in support of extending the moratorium. They said they fear methane releases and diesel exhaust from tanker trucks would harm the county’s air quality, while the process of fracking itself would threaten local water supplies.

Maja Kricker told the board a county that depends on agriculture and ecotourism can’t afford the environmental risks of fracking.

“Our economy relies on clean air and water, and the perception that people are coming to an environmentally safe and sustainable community,” said Kricker.

In this March 29, 2013 photo, workers tend to a well head during a hydraulic fracturing operation at an Encana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc. gas well outside Rifle, in western Colorado. Brennan Linsley AP

Given the underlying geology of the region, Chatham and Lee counties are the most likely spots for fracking in the Piedmont’s Deep River Basin, environmental consultant Charles Yuill told the board last month. But the shale deposits that likely contain natural gas run deeper in Lee County, making fracking more feasible there.

Any natural gas drilling in Chatham would come in the form of shallow fracking using vertical wells, a model Yuill said can lead to a higher incidence of groundwater contamination because the mixture of water and chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing is injected closer to underground aquifers.

County commissioners said they need time to further study how this method might affect Jordan Lake, which provides drinking water for close to one million people.

“Although the Mining and Energy Commission was really looking at horizontal drilling, this is not the situation in Chatham and Lee County, where horizontal is how you get to the gas,” said Vice-Chair Diana Hales. “It’s going to be vertical because of the shallowness of this shale.”

Following the unanimous vote to extend Chatham’s moratorium, board members said they will look to partner with Lee County, where the current fracking moratorium is set to expire in December.

At last week’s meeting Chatham commissioners also:

▪ Approved a request to revise the layout for 126 lots in Fearrington Village on U.S. 15-501. Once those homes are completed, development of the Fearrington planned community will reach full buildout, with 1,602 dwellings on roughly 950 acres since the project was first approved in 1976.

▪ Celebrated outgoing Emergency Management Director Janet Scott, who is retiring after more than 30 years of service to the county. In recognition for her work, Scott was awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, one of North Carolina’s highest civilian honors.

Elizabeth Friend:

Read, comment on Chatham growth plan

After nearly 18 months of development, Chatham County’s final draft of its Comprehensive Plan will be available for public comment from now until August 28.

The plan is designed to cover the next 25 years.

Residents can view the final draft plan and provide public comment online at or submit written comments to the Planning Department at PO Box 54, Pittsboro NC 27312.

A public hearing on the plan will be held Monday, August 21, at 6 pm in the Historic Courthouse in Pittsboro.

The plan addresses transportation, agriculture, natural resources/environment, utilities/infrastructure, housing, economic development, health, parks and recreation, and land use. It sets forth goals, identifies key partnerships, and recommends feasible implementation steps over 25 years to achieve the community’s vision.

All meeting minutes, memos, materials, and information covered are available on the website. For more information contact the Planning Department at 919-542-8204 or visit: