REIDSVILLE — The city established a two-year moratorium on oil and gas development Tuesday, including fracking, within the city and its extraterritorial planning jurisdiction.
The moratorium passed quickly and with little discussion at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. However, the final ordinance comes as a result of multiple conversations from previous meetings. Rockingham County has already adopted a similar moratorium.
“Whether the state would come back and pre-empt it is something we don’t know,” City Attorney William McLeod Jr. said.
In its ordinance, the city cites concerns with fracking’s relative newness as an industry and “significant environmental, community and human health impacts” from the practice in other states, “the full extent of which has not yet been determined.”
In fracking, a high-pressure water and chemical mixture is used to force open existing fissures to extract oil or gas.
Concern sparked when test drillings, conducted by what is now the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, detected signs of shale gas in a basin that Stokes County shares with Rockingham.
The ordinance primarily serves to give the city time to perform more research on both fracking and oil and gas development, but also to protect Lake Reidsville and the local watershed, officials said.
The minimal separation between shale formations and groundwater in the county’s land may mean increased risk of contamination, according to the city.
City officials also said Reidsville is ill-equipped to deal with any potential toxic waste or increased traffic from large commercial vehicles involved in oil or gas removal.
The city’s moratorium may be moot. The General Assembly passed a law last year that makes “invalidated and unenforceable” local ordinances that put conditions on fracking that go beyond those restrictions already set by state oil and gas regulations.
“It hasn’t been challenged,” McLeod Jr. said of the new law in January. “But what it seems to have done is to basically tell local governments that, regardless of ... ordinances or ideas local governments may have, that the state is going to pre-empt, if need be, any regulation or ordinance that the local government may opt to pass.”