Elected officials in Washington County, VA, approved a change to local zoning laws to open the county to natural gas development, which could include the use of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to extract natural gas locked in limestone, sandstone and some deeper shale formations.

Cherith Marshall, director of the county’s Department of Community Development and Planning, said the Washington County Board of Supervisors voted 6-1 last Tuesday to add the term “gas wells” to the list of permissible activities on land zoned A1 and A2, which is for agriculture.

“To my knowledge, as of right now there are no applications that have been submitted,” Marshall said Friday. She said she was unaware of any interest in drilling wells in the county. “We would just be waiting for an application to come in to know what the interest is.”

Marshall said about 65% of Washington County — located in the southwest part of the state and sharing a border with Tennessee — is zoned A1 and A2. The zone classifications differ on densities and lot sizes. Also, one is for limited agriculture while the other is for general agriculture.

Beth Stockner, spokeswoman for the Virginia Oil & Gas Association (VOGA), said that despite the county’s action there probably wouldn’t be any gas drilling in Washington County in the near future.

“At this time none of our member companies are interested in drilling in Washington County,” Stockner told NGI’s Shale Daily on Friday. “Most of the companies that are actively involved in Virginia are involved in the coalbed methane [CBM] industry. We do have a certain amount of shale here in Virginia, but we primarily have CBM being extracted at this time.”

Those CBM wells, Stockner said, are primarily in Buchanan and Dickenson counties in the Virginia Panhandle. But she added that Washington County was the site of Virginia’s first commercial gas wells, drilled along the border with Scott County in 1931.

“We’ve had a long history in this county, and we’ve had gas wells drilled in Washington County as recently as 2008,” Stockner said. “For them to turn around and consider banning it, that would have been something surprising.

“There’s never been a problem in Washington County. A lot of folks don’t understand it, and obviously they didn’t realize that it’s been here for a very long time and never has been a problem.”

Tara Kesterson, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME), told NGI’s Shale Daily that geologists at the agency believe Washington County is prospective to the Little Valley and Price formations, which are limestone and sandstone formations, respectively. She said there were also indications of some deeper shale formations.

“In the past, they actually got some natural gas out of the limestone and sandstone formations there, and there is some deeper shale, but we don’t know what these people are going to target,” Kesterson said Friday. She added that DMME “hasn’t received any kind of application for a permit or anything like that at this point.”