Fracking in Virginia

VNPS Conservation Chair, Marcia Mabee Bell, attended a workshop on June 24 presented jointly by the Virginia Conservation Network and the Virginia League of Conservation Voters. Fracking represents huge changes to our state, its economy, and its environmental health; all of Virginia’s citizens need to become informed about this issue. Here is Marcia’s report:

The main presenter was Rick Parrish of the Southern Environmental Law Center. He talked for an hour about fracking  already occurring in southwest Virginia, and throughout the mid-Atlantic region, as well as the potential for much more fracking in the Commonwealth.

gw forestHe covered the nature of the technology and its potential to deliver massive new amounts of natural gas, the impact it has on the environment and public health, the laws that are in place that protect the industry from liability, and laws on the books in Virginia that empower local jurisdictions to resist and regulate oil and gas drilling activity. Finally, he provided the audience with avenues for influencing the McAuliffe Administration to carefully evaluate fracking before permitting its growth into the George Washington National Forest and counties east of Fredericksburg, where a Texas oil and gas company owns leases on the Taylorsville Basin.

He urged people to write the Governor and ask him to request the Departments of Commerce and Trade and Natural Resources to conduct an in-depth study of the effects of fracking in Virginia. He said that such a study would take several years, slow things down, and potentially yield some actual, greatly needed data on the real environmental, public health, and economic impacts of fracking.

Following Mr. Parrish’s talk, segments from the documentary film  ‘Gaslands’ was shown,  providing a horrifying picture of what fracking does to people who do not own the mineral rights under their land. Next were brief comments from a representative of the Virginia League of Conservation Voters (VALCV) encouraging attendees to take action by:
1) urging Virginia’s Energy Council to dramatically increase renewable energy and energy efficiency in the Commonwealth:
2) following the Governor’s Climate Change Commission which will involve a series of public meetings
3) taking on-line action through VALCV’s website by urging the Governor to begin a multi-agency study of the impact fracking would have in the Taylorsville Basin:
The workshop is being offered at several other dates and locations in Virginia. Workshops will be held in Richmond, July 15; in Virginia Beach, July 31; in Norfolk, August 19; in Middleburg, September 9; in Fredericksburg, September 16; in Harrisonburg, September 23. Click here for details, scroll down for the workshops:

Key points made by Mr. Parrish:

  • While fracking has been known and done for 50 years, a new technique that utilizes millions of gallons of water, laced with chemicals to prevent bacteria growth, etc., and allows horizontal drilling far below the earth’s surface, has made extraction of natural gas in shale formations highly lucrative. The extreme pressure of the water in the well causes the shale to fracture thereby releasing the natural gas. The gas is captured at the surface and piped through to processing plants that may be hundreds, or even a thousand miles away.
  • Three such pipes have been proposed to run through the length of Virginia. The proposals are in response to an Request for Proposal, (RFP) from North Carolina’s Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas. These are large trunk lines that are 40 inches in diameter and cut a swath as wide as 100 feet through mountains, forests and farmland. Dominion Power’s pipeline runs from the fracking fields of West Virginia through Highland County, Augusta County, Nelson County, Buckingham County and south to the North Carolina border. Citizens all along the pipeline, including me, recently received certified letters telling us surveyors would be coming to our properties in July to conduct environmental and cultural surveys for the pipeline. In response to a question, Mr. Parrish held out little hope for these citizens to successfully oppose the pipeline since it inter-state and so regulated by the Federal government (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission).
  • The United States possesses the largest, richest shale formations in the world and, if exploited through fracking, stands to become largely energy independent in just a few short years. But it comes at an environmental and public health cost that has largely not been assessed, or even recognized. It may also add significantly to greenhouse gases even as dirty coal production diminishes
  • A single well, and a shale deposit often involves hundreds of wells, requires and utilizes the following resources:
2-8 million gallons of water
15,000 gallons of chemicals
200-600 tanker trucks of water that run to and from the site 24-7
20-25 truckloads of sand
500,000 to 2.5 million gallons of flowback waste water
The George Washington National Forest overlays the Marcellus Shale formation, the largest shale formation in North America. It is the watershed for the James and Potomac Rivers which supply drinking water to millions in Virginia. Oil and Gas companies want to frack in the GW National Forest.
Ten local governments near the GW National Forest have expressed concerns about fracking: Shenandoah, Rockingham, Augusta, Bath, Rockbridge, Botetourt counties, and the cities of Harrisburg, Staunton, Roanoke and Lynchburg.
The Taylorsville Basin underlies Caroline, King George, King and Queen, Essex and West Moreland counties. It’s shale formation is younger than Marcellus and so the fracking technique must involve using natural and propane gas rather than water to fracture the shale. This is extremely dangerous. A Texas oil and gas company holds leases on areas of the Taylorsville Basin.
Unlike properties in southwest Virginia, and West Virginia – traditional coal country – property owners on top of the Taylorsville Basin own their mineral rights. Many have refused payment from the Texas firm for their mineral rights. Currently, fracking in the Taylorsville Basin is on hold.
A 2004 study by the Environmental Protection Agency found that hydraulic fracking posed no risk to drinking water. In 2005, this study was used by the Bush Administration to justify enactment of the “Halliburton loophole,” which exempts hydraulic fracking from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Other legislation also exempted the practice used in 90 percent of U.S. natural gas wells, from the Clean Water and Clean Air Act. Consequently, the EPA has no jurisdiction in even evaluating whether a fracking site is contaminating drinking water, despite serious health complaints from people living near, or on top of, fracking sites.
A 2011 Congressional report on the chemicals used in hydraulic fracking, states that the 14 leading hydraulic fracturing companies in the U.S. injected 10.2 million gallons of more than 650 products that contained chemicals that are known or possible human carcinogens regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, or listed as hazardous air pollutants.
A key section of the regulations for the Virginia Oil and Gas Act states: “No county, city, or town or other political subdivision of the Commonwealth shall impose any condition, or require any other local license, permit, fee or bond which varies from or is in addition to the requirements of this chapter. However, no provision of this chapter shall be construed to limit or supersede the jurisdiction and requirements of . . . local land-use ordinances…”
Mr. Parrish believes this highlighted section of the Virginia code empowers local governments to resist and regulate oil and gas activity – they cannot regulate the drilling process by law, but they can impose land-use restrictions, he thinks, to good protective effect.
Fracking is already in Virginia and threatens to expand significantly into some of the most environmentally critical areas of the Commonwealth.  It is essential that Virginia’s citizens, especially members of the Virginia Native Plant Society, get informed, stay informed and take action to prevent harm to our natural resources and ourselves.
Marcia Mabee Bell
VNPS Conservation Chair

Part II: Update from Planning Commission on recommendations from the Joint Setback Study

Comments from Km:Good evening all.

It will be interesting to hear what the county administrator will present regarding the planning commission's recommendations (which have not been recommended at all). It will be a long meeting due to the Climax Rd. hearing and the fact that the setback committee issue is at the end of the agenda.
I hope you can attend to help monitor this situation.

Below is the entire zoning ordinance. You can use your "find" prompt to search the ordinance using anything you like. I used "60" and "planning commission."

Sec. 35-807 outlines procedure for requesting a zoning amendment.

An amendment is the only was of which I'm aware to change the zoning ordinance. Has anyone actually requested a zoning amendment from the setback committee? If they had an application should have been submitted as specified in #1 below.

Then, according to the ordinance, the planning commission after public notice and hearing would make recommendations to the BOS within 60 days as specified in #2 of Sec. 807 or the proposed amendment will be considered approved.

Next, after planning commission public notice, hearing and approval by action within 60 days or assumed approval after 60 days the BOS would have to go through public notice and public hearings before a decision is made.




Article I.
General Considerations

Division 1. Authority, Establishment, Purpose, and Official Zoning Map
§ 35-1. Authority to Establish Zoning

§ 35-2. Enactment

§ 35-3. Purpose and Intent

§ 35-3.1. Non-Exclusionary Intent

§ 35-4. Relation to the Environment

§ 35-5. Relation to the Comprehensive Plan

§ 35-6. Official Zoning Map

§ 35-7. Map Amendment

§ 35.8. Replacement of the Official Zoning Map

§ 35.9. Certified Copy, Filing

§ 35.10-35.14. Reserved

Division 2. Application of Regulations
§ 35-15. Application of District Regulations

§ 35-16. Use, Occupancy and Construction

§ 35-17. Height, Bulk, Density, Lot Coverage, Yards and Open Spaces

§ 35-18. Relationship of Building to Lot

§ 35-19. Required Yard, Open Space; Area, Parking or Loading Space for One

Structure, or Use, Not to be used to Meet Requirements for Another

§ 35-20. Reduction of Lots or Areas below Minimum is prohibited

§ 35-21. Reduction of Yards below Minimum

§ 35-22. Reduction of Required Off-Street Parking or Loading Space

§ 35-23. Conflicting Ordinances

§ 35-24. Severability

§ 35-25. Minimum Requirements

§ 35-26. Uses Not Provided For

§ 35-27. Issuances

§ 35-28.-35-34. Reserved

Division 3. Definitions, Pittsylvania County Zoning Ordinance
§ 35-35. General Usage Terms

§ 35-36. Interpretation of Definitions by the Zoning Administrator

§ 35-37.-35-39. Reserved

§ 35-40. Principal Definitions of the Zoning Ordinance

§ 35-41.-35-44. Reserved

Article II.
Basic Regulations

Division 1. General Regulations
§ 35-45. Territorial Application of the Ordinance

§ 35-46. Zoning Applicable to Entire Jurisdictional Areas

§ 35-47. Zoning District Boundaries

§ 35-48. General Effect

§ 35-49. Plans, Building Previously Approved: “Grandfather” Provisions

§ 35-50. Exemptions

§ 35-51. Uses Exempt from a Zoning Permit

§ 35-52. Visibility Clearance at Intersections

§ 35-53. Additional Dwellings on a Single Lot

§ 35-54.-35-59. Reserved

Division 2. Lot Regulations
§ 35-60. Minimum Lot Width Measurements

§ 35-61. Lots, Determination of Lot Front

§ 35-62. Lots, Setbacks Adjacent to Street

§ 35-63. Rear Yards on Interior Lots

§ 35-64. Side Setbacks on Lots

§ 35-65. Lot Access Requirements

§ 35-66. Lot Coverage by Buildings

§ 35-67.-35-68. Reserved

§ 35-69. Houses Displayed for Advertising Purposes

§ 35-70. General Requirements Concerning Arrangement and Location of

Structures: Widening of Highways and Streets

§ 35-71. Height of Buildings and Other Structures

§ 35-72. Uses and Structures Permitted in Required Yards

§ 35-73. Porches, Balconies, Chimneys, Similar Features

§ 35-74. Accessory and Temporary Buildings

§ 35-75.-35-79. Reserved

§ 35-80. Off-Street Parking and Loading Requirements

§ 35-81. Site Requirements for Off-Street Parking

§ 35-82. Parking Space Requirements for All Districts

§ 35-83.35-84. Reserved

§ 35-85. Off-Street Loading and Unloading Space

§ 35-86. Parking and Storage of Certain Vehicles

§ 35-87.-35-88. Reserved

§ 35-89. Limitations on Parking of Trucks and Certain Recreational Vehicles in

Residential Districts, Reserved

§ 35-90. Performance Standards

§ 35-91.-35-94. Reserved

Division 3. Signs
§ 35-95. Signs: Intent of Regulation

§ 35-96. General Requirements

§ 35-97. Permissible Signs in All Districts Exempt from Zoning Permit Requirements

§ 35-98. Permissible Signs in Selected Districts Exempt from Zoning Permit


§ 35-99. Off-Site Outdoor Advertising Signs

§ 35-100. Signs Requiring a Zoning Permit

§ 35-101. Maintenance and Removal of Signs

§ 35-102. -35-110. Reserved

Division 4. Supplementary Regulations
§ 35-111. General

§ 35-112. Airports

§ 35-113. Clubs and Lodges

§ 35-114. Stables, Riding Schools

§ 35-115. Day Camp, Boarding Camp

§ 35-116. Day Care, Nursery Facility

§ 35-117. Home for Developmentally Disabled Persons

§ 35-118. Drive-In Theatre

§ 35-119. Reserved

§ 35-120. Junk Yards

§ 35-121. Fencing, Screening

§ 35-122. Commercial Kennel, Veterinary, Animal Hospital

§ 35-123. Public Utility Structures/Uses

§ 35-124. Rest Home, Nursing Home, Convalescent Home, Orphanage

§ 35-125. Sanitary Landfill

§ 35-126. Sawmill, Temporary or Permanent

§ 35-127. Swimming, Golf, Tennis Clubs

§ 35-128. Towers, Antennas, Satellite Dishes

§ 35-129. Temporary Construction Headquarters, Yards

§ 35-130. Wayside Stand

§ 35-131. Sale and/or Storage of Petroleum Products Including Kerosene,

Gasoline and Heating Oil

§ 35-132. Feed and Seed Store

§ 35-133. Subordinate Retail Sales

§ 35-134. Temporary Events Sponsored by Local Nonprofit Organizations

§ 35-135. Borrow, Fill, or Waste Areas

§ 35-136. Home Occupations, Reserved

§ 35-137. Mobile Home/Manufactured Home Parks – Mobile Homes,

Manufactured Homes on Individual Lots, Reserved

§ 35-138. Campgrounds and Recreational Vehicle/Camper Areas

§ 35-139. Extraction of Natural Resources: Exploration

§ 35-140. Solid Waste Disposal

§ 35-141.-35-160. Reserved

Division 5. Nonconformities
§ 35-161. Continuation

§ 35-162. Repairs and Maintenance

§ 35-163. Changes in District Boundaries

§ 35-164. Expansion or Enlargement

§ 35-165. Nonconforming Lots

§ 35-166. Restoration or Replacement

§ 35-167.-35-169. Reserved

Article III.
District Regulations

§ 35-170. Establishment of Districts

§ 35-171.-35-176. Reserved

Division 1. Agricultural District, A-1
§ 35-177. Purpose

§ 35-178. Permitted Uses

§ 35-179. Special Use Permits

§ 35-180. Area Regulations

§ 35-181. Maximum Height of Buildings

§ 35-182. Minimum Yard Dimensions

§ 35-183. Floor Area Requirements

§ 35-184. Minimum Off-Street Parking Space

§ 35-185. Open Space Requirements

§ 35-186. Signs

§ 35-187. Maximum Number of Units Allowed Per Gross Acre

§ 35-188. Other Special Regulations - Streets

§ 35-189. Intensive Livestock, Dairy, Poultry Facilities

§ 35-190. Reserved

Division 2. Residential Estates District (RE)
§ 35-191. Purpose

§ 35-192. Permitted Uses

§ 35-193. Special Use Permits

§ 35-194. Area Regulations

§ 35-195. Maximum Height of Buildings

§ 35-196. Minimum Yard Dimensions

§ 35-197. Floor Area Requirements

§ 35-198. Minimum Off-Street Parking Space

§ 35-199. Open Space Requirements

§ 35-200. Signs

§ 35-201. Maximum Number of Units Allowed per Gross Acre

§ 35-202. Other Special Regulations, Reserved

§ 35-203.-35-220. Reserved

Division 3. Residential Suburban Subdivision District (R-1)
§ 35-221. Purpose

§ 35-222. Permitted Uses

§ 35-223. Special Use Permits

§ 35-224. Area Regulations

§ 35-225. Maximum Height of Buildings

§ 35-226. Minimum Yard Dimensions

§ 35-227. Floor Area Requirements

§ 35-228. Minimum Off-Street Parking Space

§ 35-229. Open Space Requirements

§ 35-230. Signs

§ 35-231. Maximum Number of Units Allowed

§ 35-232. Other Special Regulations, Reserved

§ 35-233. Right of Way Wider than Sixty (60) Feet

§ 35-234.-35-236. Reserved

Division 4. Reserved
§ 35-237-35-265. Reserved

Division 5. Residential Combined Subdivision District (RC-1)
§ 35-266. Purpose

§ 35-267. Permitted Uses

§ 35-268. Special Use Permits

§ 35-269. Area Regulations

§ 35-270. Maximum Percentage of Lot Coverage

§ 35-271. Maximum Height of Buildings

§ 35-272. Minimum Yard Dimensions

§ 35-273. Minimum Off-Street Parking Requirements

§ 35-274. Signs

§ 35-275. Maximum Number of Units Allowed

§ 35-276. Other Special Regulations - Streets

§ 35-277.-35-278. Reserved

Division 6. Residential Multi-Family District (RMF)
§ 35-279. Purpose

§ 35-280. Permitted Uses

§ 35-281. Special Use Permits

§ 35-282. Area Regulations

§ 35-283. Maximum Height of Buildings

§ 35-284. Minimum Yard Dimensions

§ 35-285. Floor Area Requirements

§ 35-286. Minimum Off-Street Parking Space

§ 35-287. Open Space Requirements

§ 35-288. Signs

§ 35-289. Maximum Number of Units Allowed per Gross Acre

§ 35-290. Other Special Regulations, Reserved

§ 35-291. Streets

§ 35-292. Reserved

Division 7. Residential Planned Unit Development District (RPD)
§ 35-293. Purpose

§ 35-294. Permitted Uses

§ 35-295. Special Use Permits

§ 35-296. Area Regulations

§ 35-297. Maximum Height of Buildings

§ 35-298. Minimum Yard Dimensions

§ 35-299. Floor Area Requirements

§ 35-300. Minimum Off-Street Parking Space

§ 35-301. Open Space Requirements

§ 35-302. Management of Open Space (By Property Owners’ Association)

§ 35-303. Signs

§ 35-304. Other Special Regulations, Reserved

§ 35-305. Streets

§ 35-306. Utilities

§ 35-307.-35-315. Reserved

Division 8. Residential Manufactured Housing Park District (MHP)
§ 35-316. Purpose

§ 35-317. Permitted Uses

§ 35-318. Special Use Permits

§ 35-319. Area Regulations

§ 35-320. Maximum Height of Buildings

§ 35-321. Minimum Yard Dimensions: Setbacks

§ 35-322. Floor Area Requirements

§ 35-323. Minimum Off-Street Parking Space

§ 35-324. Open Space/Recreation Space Requirements

§ 35-325. Signs

§ 35-326. Maximum Number of Units Allowed per Gross Acre

§ 35-327. Manufactured Housing Park Streets

§ 35-328. Platting Required/Site Plan Required

§ 35-329. Other Special Regulations/Additional Regulations: Reserved

§ 35-330.-35-344. Reserved

Division 9. Business District, Limited (B-1)
§ 35-345. Purpose

§ 35-346. Permitted Uses

§ 35-347. Special Use Permit

§ 35-348. Area Regulations

§ 35-349. Maximum Height of Buildings

§ 35-350. Minimum Yard Dimensions

§ 35-351. Maximum Floor Area

§ 35-352. Minimum Off-Street Parking Space

§ 35-353. Open Space Requirements

§ 35-354. Minimum Loading Space

§ 35-355. Signs

§ 35-356. Other Regulations

§ 35-357. -35-363. Reserved

Division 10. Business District, General (B-2)
§ 35-364. Purpose

§ 35-365. Permitted Uses

§ 35-366. Special Use Permits

§ 35-367. Area Regulations

§ 35-368. Maximum Height of Buildings

§ 35-369. Minimum Yard Dimensions

§ 35-370. Maximum Floor Area

§ 35-371. Minimum Off-Street Parking Space

§ 35-372. Open Space Requirements

§ 35-373. Minimum Loading Space

§ 35-374. Signs

§ 35-375. Other Regulations

§ 35-376.-35-381. Reserved

Division 11. Industrial District (M-1) - Light Industry
§ 35-382. Purpose

§ 35-383. Permitted Uses

§ 35-384. Special Use Permits

§ 35-385. Special Performance Standards

§ 35-386. Area Regulations

§ 35-387. Maximum Height of Buildings

§ 35-388. Minimum Yard Dimensions

§ 35-389. Maximum Floor Area

§ 35-390. Minimum Off-Street Parking Space

§ 35-391. Open Space Requirements

§ 35-392. Minimum Loading Space

§ 35-393. Signs

§ 35-394. Other Regulations

§ 35-395.-35-400. Reserved

Division 12. Industrial District (M-2) - Heavy Industry
§ 35-401. Purpose

§ 35-402. Permitted Uses

§ 35-403. Special Use Permits

§ 35-404. Special Performance Standards

§ 35-405. Area Regulations

§ 35-406. Maximum Height of Buildings

§ 35-407. Minimum Yard Dimensions

§ 35-408. Maximum Floor Area

§ 35-409. Minimum Off-Street Parking Space

§ 35-410. Open Space Requirements

§ 35-411. Minimum Loading Space

§ 35-412. Signs

§ 35-413. Other Regulations

§ 35-414-35-528. Reserved

Division 13. Conservation District (C-1)
§ 35-529. Purpose

§ 35-530. Permitted Uses

§ 35-531. Special Use Permit Required

§ 35-532. Other Requirements

§ 35-533.-35-544. Reserved

Article IV.
Special Provisions

Division 1. Overlay Districts/Special District: Lake Surface District
§ 35-545. Purpose

§ 35-546. Area Considered

§ 35-547. Overlay District

§ 35-548. Piers and Docks Regulated

§ 35-549. Moorings and Floats

§ 35-550.-35-563. Reserved

Division 2. Overlay Districts/Special District: Floodplain District
§ 35-564. Regulations for use, activities and development in floodplain areas

shall be controlled by the Pittsylvania County Floodplain Ordinance

as amended from time to time.

Division 3. Manufactured Homes
§ 35-565. Intent

§ 35-566. Definitions

§ 35-567. Fee

§ 35-568. Manufactured Home Standards

§ 35-569. Skirting

§ 35-570. Enforcement

§ 35-571.-673. Reserved

Division 4. Airport Overlay Zoning District
§ 35-674. Purpose

§ 35-675. Establishment of Airport Overlay Zoning District

§ 35-676. Interference with Air Communication or Navigational Equipment or


§ 35-677. Height Limitations

§ 35-678. Specific Uses Prohibited in the Airport Overlay Zoning District

§ 35-679. Special Airport Zoning Clearance Procedures

§ 35-680.-35-684. Reserved

Article V.

Division 1. Administration, Enforcement, and Interpretation
§ 35-685. Appointment of Zoning Administrator

§ 35-686. Enforcement: Responsibility of Zoning Administrator

§ 35-687. Enforcement of Board of Zoning Appeals Decision

§ 35-688. Enforcement of Minimum Requirements

§ 35-689. Interpretation by Zoning Administrator

§ 35-690.-35-699. Reserved

Division 2. Permits
§ 35-700. Permits Required: Conformance

§ 35-701. Building Permits and Zoning Permits

§ 35-702. Application Requirements for a Zoning Permit, Reserved

§ 35-703. Certificates of Occupancy

§ 35-704.-35-711. Reserved

Division 3. Special Use Permits
§ 35-712. Issuances Reserved to the Board of Supervisors

§ 35-713. Application

§ 35-714. Conditions

§ 35-715. Expiration of Special Use Permits

§ 35-716. Recording of Special Use Permits Map and Indexing

§ 35-717. Revocation

§ 35-718. Prior Special Use Permits

§ 35-719. Review of Public Uses for Compliance with the Comprehensive Plan

§ 35-720. Condominium Conversion

§ 35-721. - 35-740. Reserved

Division 4. Site Development Plan
§ 35-741. Site Development Plans Required

§ 35-742. Uses Requiring Site Development Plan and Review by Planning

Commission (Unless Exempted Under Sec. 35-752.)

§ 35-743.-35-749. Reserved

§ 35-750. Pre-application Conference

§ 35-751. Site Development Plan-Submittal Generally

§ 35-752. Conditions for Approval (Without Planning Commission Review)

§ 35-753. Submittal Contents for the Site Development Plan

§ 35-754.-35-759. Reserved

§ 35-760. Sources of Guidance in Design-Subdivision Ordinance

§ 35-761. Public Access, Reserved

§ 35-762. Site Development Plan-Review Criteria

§ 35-763. Transitional Screening Requirements

§ 35-764. Notification of Findings: Processing

§ 35-765. Preliminary Approval-Term of Validity – Extension – Re-submittal

§ 35-766. Revised Site Development Plan – Submittal Generally

§ 35-767. Revised Site Development Plan – Submittal Contents

§ 35-768. Revised Site Development Plan – Action upon Completion of Review

§ 35-769. Revised Site Development Plan – Term of Validity – Termination -

Extension, Re-submittal

§ 35-770. Revised Site Development Plan- Amendment

§ 35-771. Final “As Built” Plans Required

§ 35-772. Exceptions – Uses Not Requiring Site Development Plan

§ 35-773. Concept Plans

§ 35-774.-35-779. Reserved

Division 5. Administration of Site Development Plan Requirements
§ 35-780. General Guidelines

§ 35-781. Procedure

§ 35-782.-35-802. Reserved

Division 6. Amendments to Zoning Ordinance – Rezoning - Changes to Ordinance and Maps
§ 35-803. Code Provisions

§ 35-804. Statement of Purpose and Intent

§ 35-805. Initiation of Amendments

§ 35-806. By Property Owner Petition - by Motions

§ 35-807. Procedure for Requesting a Zoning Amendment

§ 35-808. Proffer of Conditions

§ 35-809. Effect on Conditions

§ 35-810. Zoning Map Notation

§ 35-811. Authority of Zoning Administrator

§ 35-812. Public Hearing – Notice

§ 35-813. Report by Planning Commission to Board of Supervisors after Hearing

§ 35-814. Limitation on Filing New Petition after Original Denial

§ 35-815. Withdrawal of Petitions

§ 35-816. Posting of Property

§ 35-817. Posting of Property – Planning Commission Hearing

§ 35-818. Posting of Property – Board of Supervisors Hearing

§ 35-819. Maintenance and Removal of Signs

§ 35-820. Matters to be considered in Reviewing Proposed Amendments

§ 35-821. Schedule of Review

§ 35-822. Conditional Zoning, Reserved

§ 35-823.-35-843. Reserved

Division 7. Board of Zoning Appeals and Processing of Variances
§ 35-844. Board of Zoning Appeals: Appointment and Organization

§ 35-845. Staff

§ 35-846. Compensation

§ 35-847. Removal

§ 35-848. Bylaws

§ 35-849. Powers and Duties of the Board of Zoning Appeals

§ 35-850. Appeal to the Board of Zoning Appeals

§ 35-851. Application for Variances

§ 35-852. Procedure

§ 35-853. Decision of Board of Zoning Appeals

§ 35-854. Duties of the Planning Commission

§ 35-855.-35-865. Reserved

Division 8. Fees
§ 35-866. Administrative Fee Structure

§ 35-867.-35-872. Reserved

Article VI.
Violations and Penalties

Division 1. Violations
§ 35-873. Violations: Generally

§ 35-874. Notice of Violation

§ 35-875. Remedies Not Exclusive

§ 35-876. Complaints Regarding Violations

§ 35-877. Penalties

§ 35-878.-35-898. Reserved

Victory For Navajo Grassroots Groups Over Uranium Mining


Victory For Navajo Grassroots Groups Over Uranium Mining

Navajo Nation Council Rescinds Mining Legislation

WINDOW ROCK, AZ—Concerned Diné Citizens, a coalition of Navajo grassroots organizations and residents opposed to uranium mining, applaud the Navajo Nation Council’s vote to close a loophole created by a previous uranium mining legislation Tuesday (7/22/14) which had authorized access over Navajo Trust Land to a uranium mining company Uranium Resources Incorporated (URI).
Danny Simpson and Jonathan Perry
Danny Simpson and Jonathan Perry

“If Uranium Resources were allowed unlimited access over Trust Land in Churchrock, that would have potentially opened up new mining on URI’s other properties in northwestern New Mexico,” said Jonathan Perry, President of Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining. Perry continues, “Because these kinds of companies target areas adjacent to the Nation, but not on Navajo Indian Country, our own laws prohibiting new uranium mining cannot protect people in the checkerboard lands.”

In July 2012, URI entered into a Temporary Access Agreement with the Navajo Nation which allows URI limited access to its Churchrock property with certain stipulations, including the clean up of existing uranium contamination in the area.

In December of 2013, the Navajo Resources and Development Committee acknowledged a right-of-way for URI across Navajo Trust Land to use its license to mine, effectively violating the Temporary Access Agreement, the Diné Natural Resource Protection Act and Radioactive Materials Transportation Act. The company plans to do in situ leach (ISL) uranium mining, a technique that requires pumping water with chemicals into the earth to mobilize the uranium within the aquifer in order to extract it.

“Now the Nation’s focus can go back to the over whelming needs for clean up, health studies, and water studies,” said Leona Morgan of Diné No Nukes. “In order for these controversial issues not to play out so divisively in the future, it is imperative that all people—not just Diné people—understand the scope and permanent effects of abandoned uranium mines.”

The Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. EPA and other agencies are continuing ongoing assessment and clean up of the 521abandoned uranium mines across Navajo Nation that started with the first 5-year plan.

For more information on EPA uranium clean up:

For more information: www.endaum.com

Tell EPA: Take nuclear support out of proposed carbon rule



Tell EPA: Take nuclear support out of proposed carbon rule

July 28, 2014
As you surely know, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a new rule to reduce carbon emissions from electric power plants.

As proposed, the rule includes unnecessary and counterproductive support for existing and uneconomic reactors and provides encouragement for construction of new nuclear reactors as well.

These provisions must be removed from the final rule. Your action is essential to achieve this goal.

Please submit your comments to the EPA below, urging it to remove all support for nuclear power from the final version of its Clean Power Plan.
Please feel free to add your own comments and concerns to the sample comment language provided (some additional talking points are available here in pdf format). However, to ensure that the comments will be properly considered, the subject line of the comment submission cannot be changed.

Everyone everywhere can take part in this action. Because your comments may be posted by the EPA online, please do not include your phone number or street address.

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Subject: Comments on EPA-HQ-OAR-2013-0602; remove nuclear power support from Clean Power Plan



1. Call to Order – 7:00 p.m.
14. Update from Planning Commission on recommendations from the Joint Setback Study

KM's comments:  Good evening all.

It will be interesting to hear what the county administrator will present regarding the planning commission's recommendations (which have not been recommended at all).  It will be a long meeting due to the Climax Rd. hearing and the fact that the setback committee issue is at the end of the agenda.  I hope you can attend to help monitor this situation.

Below is the entire zoning ordinance.  You can use your "find" prompt to search the ordinance using anything you like.  I used "60" and "planning commission."
Sec. 35-807 outlines procedure for requesting a zoning amendment. 
 An amendment is the only was of which I'm aware to change the zoning ordinance. Has anyone actually requested a zoning amendment from the setback committee?  If they had an application should have been submitted as specified in #1 below.   
Then, according to the ordinance, the planning commission after public notice and hearing would make recommendations to the BOS within 60 days as specified in #2 of Sec. 807 or the proposed amendment will be considered approved.
Next, after planning commission public notice, hearing and approval by action within 60 days or assumed approval after 60 days the BOS would have to go through public notice and public hearings before a decision is made.

Fw: setback/ordinance



Proposals for zoning amendments, whether initiated by the Board of Supervisors, the Planning  Commission, or any person, firm, or corporation shall be treated in accordance with the following procedure:

1. An application must be submitted in writing to the Zoning Administrator and must be
accompanied by eight (8) copies of an acceptable site development plan, where applicable, of the proposed amendment in accordance with Division 4-Site Development Plan-herein and with such other reasonable information shown thereon as shall be required by the Zoning Administrator. Copies should be accompanied by a reproducible as specified in Section 35-751. The Zoning Administrator shall submit said application to the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. The Zoning Administrator may waive full site plan requirements allowing substitution or a concept plan.

2. The Planning Commission shall consider the proposed amendment after notice and public hearing in accordance with Section 15.2-2204 of the Code of Virginia, 1950, as amended. 

The Planning Commission shall present its recommendation to the Board of Supervisors within sixty (60) days of the first meeting of the Commission after the proposed amendment has been referred to it, otherwise the Planning Commission shall be deemed to have approved the proposed amendment.
3. The Board of Supervisors shall consider the proposed amendment after notice and public hearing in accordance with Section 15.2-2204 of the Code of Virginia, 1950, as amended, and shall take action on the proposed amendment within sixty (60) days from the date of the public hearing.


Virginia Tech researchers search for ways to better trace effects of coal ash spills

Virginia Tech researchers search for ways to better trace effects of coal ash spills

DANVILLE — Virginia Tech researchers hope a $25,000 National Science Foundation grant will help them find better ways to trace the long-term effects of coal ash spills like the one in February that fouled 70 miles of the Dan River from Eden, North Carolina, to Kerr Lake in Virginia.

The NSF RAPID grant will “help us get a snapshot of what’s going on,” said Madeline Schreiber, a Tech hydrogeosciences professor and lead researcher on the project.
The Dan River grant was funded on April 4, two months after the coal ash spill, according to the NSF award notice.
Tech environmental nanoscientist Marc Michel and geochemist Ben Gill are co-researchers on the project.
This first-step NSF grant will allow the team to gather data to apply for larger science grants that could lead to sophisticated ways to monitor long-term effects of this and other coal ash spills, Schreiber said.
NSF Grants for Rapid Response Research fund urgent scientific work on natural and human-caused disasters. Such grants are awarded within weeks or months of submission, whereas larger science grants can take a year or more of review, Schreiber said.

Schreiber’s team had begun taking water and sediment samples immediately after the spill, but they needed funding to continue the work, she said.
The team is using electron microscopy and geochemical analysis to develop techniques for mapping the chemical signature for coal ash. If successful, the techniques could then be used to trace how these pollutants move through waterways and to monitor affected areas for potential long-term problems, Schreiber said.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines coal ash as a “gray, powdery by-product of burning coal to produce energy. It is a substance that is composed of the materials that are left over after the coal is burned, including fine sand (called silica), unburned carbon and various metals such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, selenium and zinc.”
Exposure to high levels of heavy metals and other coal ash contaminants can cause cancer and neurological damage, according to the EPA.
The EPA has identified 676 coal ash slurry facilities across the United States and classifies 45 of them as having high or significant hazard potential. Of those, three are in West Virginia, eight in Kentucky and 12 in North Carolina, including the two Duke Energy ponds in Eden. Many of them sit near rivers and lakes.
There are 13 coal ash ponds spread across Virginia, including the New River Valley, Northern Virginia, the Richmond area and Tidewater, said Bill Hayden, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
But none of the Virginia facilities are classified as high or significant potential hazards, according to the EPA listing.
Still, as the Dan River incident shows, a spill in one state can spread major problems to downstream neighbors. And it’s that migration that Schreiber and her co-researchers want to focus on.
It will not be easy.
The chemical composition of coal ash changes depending on what kind of coal was burned, how it was burned and the chemical composition of the sediment and water in which it is found, Schreiber said.
So the team is developing a technique that can be used to identify the specific signatures of different sources of coal ash. To be effective tracers, those signatures must remain in the ash as it moves through waterways and breaks down into smaller and smaller particles, Schreiber said.
To further complicate the Tech project, this spill is not the only human activity to affect the Dan River, as pollutants have been released into the river over many years, Schreiber said.
To account for older ash and pollutants, the Tech team is sampling sediment from an area upstream of the Eden ponds to determine what the river bottom was like before the spill. The team also has a sample of the ash that went into the river at Eden, Schreiber said.
The researchers hope that by comparing the results from those samples with post-spill sediments downstream, they can isolate the correct ash tracers to work on, she said.
Then, the team will try to map the chemical and physical characteristics of that ash down to the level of nanoparticles, looking for markers that can be used to identify it no matter where or when it shows up.
Given the number of coal ash slurry facilities across the country, the research could be wide-reaching. A better coal ash tracer system could help state and federal agencies conduct better cleanups and ensure safe drinking water and wildlife habitats months and years after spills, Schreiber said.
But it’s not a sure thing.
“This is research. We don’t actually know if we can do it,” Schreiber said.
And they won’t know until they’ve done all the sampling and analysis.
Schreiber and two geology undergraduate students worked an 11-hour day Wednesday taking water and sediment samples at a half-dozen sites along the Dan River from Eden, North Carolina, to the top of Virginia’s Kerr Lake reservoir.
Ava Menza, 18, from New Jersey, is a rising sophomore studying geophysics. When she found out about the project on the Dan River, Menza said, she “jumped at the opportunity because I knew I’d get a lot of experience.”
“It’s very important for an undergraduate to get a research opportunity before graduating,” Menza added. “And I was just lucky to get one so early.”
Chelsea Delsack, 21, a rising senior from Richmond studying geochemistry, said she pestered Schreiber for months to get on one of the professor’s research projects.
Delsack transferred to the geology department from materials science engineering, and so “got a late start” on her research projects, she said.
Delsack said she believes working on a major event like the Dan River spill will not only give her invaluable experience in her field, but give her “one-on-one time with professors and graduate students.”
Undergraduate research has become a major focus at Tech over the past decade. Delsack said in her view, it gives students a wider experience of the opportunities available in their fields. It can also help a student find her professional passion.
Using metal kitchen spoons, plastic jugs and a garden hoe, the three-woman research team waded near the Dan River shore at boat ramps and city parks throughout the day, scraping up river mud and dipping out water samples, hoping that back at the lab they will find some of the Eden coal ash.
Chances are good they’ll find some.
According to Myles Bartos, on-scene coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at the Dan River, only about 3,000 tons of the estimated 39,000 tons of spilled ash have been captured.
The ash spilled into the river when a drainage pipe beneath the 27-acre Duke Energy Dan River Steam Plant waste pond collapsed. It has been classified as the third largest such spill in U.S. history.
The largest spill occurred in 2008 near Knoxville, Tennessee, when a retaining wall at the Kingston Fossil Plant collapsed, spilling 5.4 million cubic yards of ash that destroyed nearby neighborhoods, the New York Times reported at the time.

The scale of the Dan River spill by comparison is “a very, very distant third,” Bartos said.
Continuous water and sediment sampling of the 70-mile spill area since February shows contamination remains below federal safety limits.
“The water is safe to drink. It’s safe for recreation,” Bartos said.
The EPA, in conjunction with North Carolina and Virginia wildlife and environmental agencies has overseen the cleanup, which will be paid for by Duke Energy under a post-spill contract, Bartos said.
The cost of the cleanup, which officially concluded last week at Abreu Grogan Park at the Schoolfield Hydroelectric Dam in Danville, has not been announced. Ash capture at a second cleanup site near the steam plant in Eden concluded in late June, Bartos said.
The total cost of the cleanup has yet to be calculated, Duke spokesman Jeff Brooks said Thursday.
In May, the company listed
$15 million in expenses related the spill in its first-quarter earnings report. But that was before cleanup efforts had begun in earnest. A second report is due in August.
“I expect it to go up quite a bit,” Brooks said of the cleanup total.
All ash removed from the river is being trucked to a hazardous waste facility in North Carolina that is certified to accept it, according to a Duke Energy news release.
It’s unclear whether Duke Energy will pay any federal or state fines related to the spill. EPA Region Three spokeswoman Terri White said Friday that no federal fines had been levied to date.



The source of the real fraud against Southside : uranium mining


Mary Rafferty | Posted: Sunday, February 27, 2011 6:01 am 
The real “fraud” in the ongoing debate over lifting Virginia’s uranium mining ban is the false choice posited between healthy communities on the one hand and energy independence and jobs on the other.

The truth is in order to rebuild our local economy, Southside Virginia must embrace clean and healthy solutions for job creation in a way that strengthens our community for this and future generations. We don’t have to choose between a vibrant economy and a healthy environment.

We can rebuild our economy by creating jobs in the energy solutions of today not the disasters of yesterday.

In order to set the record straight, here are a few plain facts about the economic and health consequences of uranium mining in Southside Virginia.
 » Uranium mining would harm our health: Uranium mining could put the health of Southside Virginia citizens in significant danger.

Thousands of people in communities out West, where mining and milling operations are currently conducted, are struggling with cancer and diabetes due to their prolonged exposure to uranium mill tailings waste. And while independent researchers continue to determine the full effects exposure to uranium waste has on human health, studies have linked exposure to uranium tailings waste to increased rates of cancer, kidney failure, leukemia and diabetes.
 » Uranium mining and milling would endanger our water: Virginia’s wet climate makes the proposed site at Coles Hill a risky experiment. Uranium mining and milling sites are typically operated in dry sparsely populated areas. But in Southside Virginia, severe weather events and flooding can overwhelm uranium operations, flushing uranium mill tailing waste into the bordering Bannister River (which flows into the Dan River) as well as local groundwater.
During a heavy rainstorm in November 2009, most of the Coles Hill site was completely under water. In fact, the road at Dry Branch, which is at the lower edge of the Coles Hill property, has been closed numerous times in past few years due to flooding. Virginia Uranium Inc. has yet to show any new technology that would ensure flooding would not impact operations.
The National Academy of Science is currently conducting a scientific and technical review on whether or not uranium mining can be done safely in Virginia. This study should be completed and reviewed by the public and decision makers before the General Assembly even considers lifting the ban. 
 » Uranium mining would benefit other nations, not America: Despite the downhome name, Virginia Uranium Inc. is a majority-Canadian owned company.
While some of the uranium mined and milled in Virginia might eventually be sold in this country, it will be part of a global market. If extracted and processed today, uranium from Coles Hill would most likely be sent to countries with the highest demand, mainly China and India. According to a letter published last week, VUI’s lead lobbyist Whitt Clement even agrees that uranium produced in Virginia may not stay in America.
All that can be guaranteed to stay in Virginia is the 29 million tons of mill tailing waste that would be created by the project.
 » Uranium mining will not benefit our economy in the long term: Uranium pricing is a volatile market and economically unstable. The market sets the price of uranium and it tends to be a boom and bust industry. In the 1980s uranium companies fled out of traditional mining towns in the western United States when the price of uranium plummeted.
Jobs left communities while the waste stayed. The same thing could happen in Southside.
 » A vision for a prosperous Southside Virginia: The choice is between rebuilding our economy by manufacturing clean energy products that make our country more energy independent or continuing to rely on outdated technologies. As a start, the proposed four megawatt solar facility in Halifax County could bring at least 100 jobs to the region and another 150 jobs if the batteries used for the solar panels are manufactured in our region.
On the other hand, we can produce dirty energy materials that are sent to China and India.
The choice is between maintaining and growing our $300 million agricultural industry by keeping our groundwater clean and then investing in sustainable biomass. The fallow fields that many have grown accustomed to can be replanted with warm-weather grasses, creating jobs for Southside citizens and energy for our homes. The other option is we could force our farmers to truck in water from other states if their livestock is poisoned by groundwater contaminated by uranium tailing after a flood.
Southside Virginia is poised to become a leader in the clean energy economy. Whether it’s Virginia’s first operational solar and biomass facilities in Halifax County, the proposed U.S. Green Energy solar manufacturing facility in Danville or the warm-weather grasses that can bring new life to our agricultural sector. Southside Virginia has the resources to compete in the 21st century economy.
The choice before Virginia is do we try and rebuild our economy with the polluting technology of a past century or the cutting edge clean energy of tomorrow.

Hundreds of Southside Virginia citizens and members of the Sierra Club choose a clean, prosperous and healthy future without uranium mining.
Rafferty is the grassroots organizing manager with the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter.

Virginia earthquake jolted eastern North America: The Central Virginia Seismic Zone: The Central Virginia seismic zone is a region of moderate but persistent seismic activity

1875 quake

Comments:  Location of uranium in the Piedmont are near faults, so is uranium mining near faults risky?  Faults in VA are active, even Central Piedmont!

However the latest info for USGS:  Documentation for the 2014 Update of the United States National Seismic Hazard Maps is newer than both reports below from the mining companies:

 Geologist Joe Aylor reminds us that the Coles Hill deposits are on a geologic faults :   

Aylor states, "Expert seismologists at the U.S. Geological Survey and Virginia Tech are much more capable of discussing active versus inactive faults and earthquakes than other scientist in another discipline.
Geophysical and geochemical characterization of the groundwater system and the role of Chatham Fault in groundwater movement at the Coles Hill uranium deposit, Virginia, USA

All Shook Up! The 2011 Virginia Earthquake

As the year comes to a close it is a fine time to reflect on the 2011 Virginia earthquake.  It’s been four months since the Virginia earthquake jolted eastern North America, and we now know more about what happened.  This moderate-size (Mw=5.8) quake–felt by millions of people from Alabama to Quebec–caused significant damage in Louisa County, cracked both buildings and nerves in Washington D.C., and served notice that there is still some kick left in these ancient rocks.
overview map
Seisomograms generated from the Virginia earthquake. Modified from-

What Happened on August 23rd?

 At 1:51:04 p.m. (EDT) a fault ruptured at a point some 4 to 5 km (2.5 to 3 miles) below the Earth’s surface in Louisa County, Virginia (~60 km northwest of Richmond).  As one side of the fault slid past the other, seismic waves radiated outward from the source area.  The primary waves (P-waves) raced away at nearly 6 km/second: sweeping through Richmond 11 seconds after the quake, passing through Williamsburg in 20 seconds, and arriving at the West Coast in about 5 minutes. The primary waves were followed by shear waves and salvos of surface waves, these were the jolts that people felt.  On the William & Mary campus; shaking perceptible to humans lasted about 20 seconds.  At the North Anna Nuclear Power Station, 21 km from the epicenter, peak ground accelerations reached ~250 cm/sec2, more than sufficient to damage unreinforced masonry structures in the epicentral region.

The Virginia temblor was a moderate earthquake.  Worldwide there have been 344 earthquakes of magnitude 5.8 or greater this year, which averages out to about one quake of this size (or larger) per day somewhere in the world.  What makes this quake special is that it was the largest quake to rock the eastern United States in over a century and was felt by more people than any other quake in U.S. history.  At the recent American Geophysical Union meeting, Shao and others report a seismic moment of 5.75 x 1017 Newton meters for the quake, which translates into ~35 terajoules of energy released (for comparison, World War II-era atomic bombs packed an energy punch of 50 to 90 terajoules).

Beachball diagram from USGS/SLU Regional Moment Solution. Modified from- eqarchives/fm/se082311a_rmt.php

The nature of seismic wave first arrivals at seismic stations helped define both the geometry and type of fault that slipped.  The diagram to the right is a first motion diagram, in essence a stereographic projection that forms a visual representation of the fault style and defines two possible fault orientations for the Virginia earthquake. For the uninitiated these diagrams are confusing, geologists commonly refer to these diagrams as beachball diagrams.

Based on the pattern of first arrivals, the fault that slipped was a reverse fault striking to the north or northeast and dipping moderately either to the west or southeast.  With these data alone the fault cannot be uniquely determined- it could be either plane.  The P- and T- axes represent the axes of maximum contraction and extension respectively; in essence the Earth’s crust in central Virginia was shortened in an approximately east/west direction from the quake movement.

Within a day or so after the earthquake, seismologists from Virginia Tech and the U.S. Geological Survey had an array of portable seismometers installed in central Virginia.  This equipment recorded hundreds of aftershocks. Most of these aftershocks were small (M= 1-3), but Louisa County residents certainly felt them.

Aftershock cloud
Block diagrams illustrating Virginia earthquake hypocenter (red) and aftershocks (blue). Left- Oblique downward view to the northeast. Right- Oblique view to northeast from below the Earth's surface. Note- planar alignment of many aftershocks. Aftershock locations from-

The aftershock pattern clearly reveals the fault geometry: the earthquake occurred on a northeast—striking fault that dips about 50 to 55˚ to the southeast. Click on the link below to watch a short animation.  The aftershocks are blue spheres, notice how they mostly line up neatly along a plane—that is the fault that slipped.  The big red sphere (the August 23rd quake) plots off the plane, that quake was located by a regional network of seismometers and is not as accurately located as the aftershocks pinpointed by the locally deployed array of seismometers.

Watch aftershock animation

Block diagram of the central Virginia Piedmont illustrating 2011 earthquake hypocenter on a southeast dipping reverse fault. Note- rupture did not reach the surface. Oblique view to the northeast.

During the quake the southeastern side of the fault (hanging wall) was shoved upward with a maximum displacement of about 1 meter.  The total rupture length along the fault was likely 5 to 10 kilometers.  There was no rupture at the surface because displacement across the fault did not propagate all the way to the Earth’s surface.  The 2011 earthquake occurred along a blind, and previously unrecognized, reverse fault in the Virginia Piedmont.

Geology of the Piedmont

 The earthquake occurred in the Piedmont, a region of complex geology that is the metamorphic core of the Appalachian Mountain system. Some of these rocks originated far from North America and were later crushed against the continental margin during tectonic collision and faulted to their current location.  In the past twenty years geologists have distinguished many different terranes in the Piedmont: terranes are blocks of crust with distinct geologic histories and are bound by major faults or tectonic sutures.  The difference between terranes is well illustrated on the aeromagnetic map displayed in the animated map sequence below.

The 2011 Virginia earthquake occurred in the Chopawamsic terrane.  Rocks in this terrane formed as volcanic and plutonic rocks in a continental arc during the Ordovician Period (~470 to 450 million years ago).  This arc was likely outboard of ancient North America and was later accreted to the continent.  In the late Paleozoic (300 to 280 million years ago), during the massive tectonic collision that created Pangaea, these rocks were squeezed and baked (deformed and metamorphosed) into gneisses and schists.  The Chopawamsic terrane is bound on the northwest by the Brookneal/Shores fault zone and on the southeast by the Spotsylvania fault zone.

 Our kinematic studies of these fault zones indicate that they experienced simultaneous right-lateral wrenching and shortening when they were active in the Paleozoic.  In essence, the Spotsylvania fault zone moved the Goochland terrane to the southwest and the Brookneal/Shores fault zone moved the Chopawamsic terrane to the southwest relative to the western Piedmont.

Animated map of the central Virginia Seismic Zone illustrating geography, geologic terranes, basins, faults, aeromagnetic patterns, and earthquake epicenters (1774-2011). Frames flash in every 4 seconds. Earthquake data from the Virginia Tech Seismological Observatory. Geologic data from numerous sources. NA- North Anna Nuclear Power Station.

In the Triassic Period (220 to 195 million years ago) Piedmont terranes were fractured and broken during rifting which created sedimentary basins, such as the Culpeper and Richmond basins. This rifting ultimately opened the Atlantic Ocean. Traditionally, geologists have viewed the Piedmont as a relatively static region whose tectonic heyday was long past. Today, it is a gently rolling landscape mantled by thick soils, the product of slow erosion for millions of years and a seeming dearth of tectonic activity.

But as my colleague David Spears at the Virginia Division of Geology and Mineral Resources has pointed out, there are subtle clues in the rock structure of the central Piedmont that suggest recent tectonic activity.

The 2011 quake was a not so subtle reminder that David is correct and we need to get our boots on the ground and eyes on the outcrop to study the region in more detail.

1875 quake
Isoseismal map for the December 23, 1875 earthquake. Map from Bollinger and Hopper, 1971, Seismological Society of America Bulletin, v. 61, p. 1033-1039.

The Central Virginia Seismic Zone

 The Central Virginia seismic zone is a region of moderate but persistent seismic activity.  The first recorded quake occurred in 1774 near Petersburg and was felt throughout Virginia and North Carolina. 

The largest historical quake (prior to the 2011 temblor) in the central Virginia region took place in 1875 and is estimated to have been a magnitude 5.0. 

Estimating both the size and exact location of historic earthquakes is difficult.  Geologists use the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale to estimate the size of historical earthquakes based on eyewitness accounts and damage reports.  This is a 12-point scale that employs roman numerals, with a II being a quake so small that only few people felt it, a IV being felt by many people indoors, a VI being felt by all with some damage to plaster and masonry, a VIII causes considerable damage to structures, a X destroys most structures and the ground is thoroughly cracked, and a XII equals total damage.  The intensity of damage decreases away from the epicenter.

The 1875 quake reached an intensity of VI to VII in central Virginia; the 2011 quake had a maximum intensity of VIII in Louisa County whereas in Williamsburg the quake’s intensity was a IV.

Damage from the 2011 earthquake in Louisa County, Virginia. Source-

By the late 1970s a regional array of permanent seismic monitoring stations helped better locate and measure earthquakes in the southeastern United States.  Over the past three decades there have been 47 quakes with a M≥2 in central Virginia (22 of those are aftershocks from the 2011 quake).  These quakes are widely distributed and rarely correlate to mapped faults (see the animated map above).  The focal mechanisms are consistent with slip on reverse faults at depths between 4 to 10 kilometers.  At these depths, the rock is warm (70˚ to 200˚ C or 160˚ to 400˚ F), but solid and behaves in a brittle fashion when placed under stress.

There is more to tell, but my research students counseled me to curb my enthusiasm, as blog posts should not be too long. 

In the next post I’ll discuss the possible causes of the 2011 earthquake and tell the lurid history of finding fault at the North Anna Nuclear Power station.

New Insight on the Nation’s Earthquake Hazards : The eastern U.S. has the potential for larger and more damaging earthquakes


National Map
2014 USGS National Seismic Hazard Map, displaying intensity of potential ground shaking from an earthquake in 50 years (which is the typical lifetime of a building).

To help make the best decisions to protect communities from earthquakes, new USGS maps display how intense ground shaking could be across the nation.

The USGS recently updated their U.S. National Seismic Hazard Maps, which reflect the best and most current understanding of where future earthquakes will occur, how often they will occur, and how hard the ground will likely shake as a result.

42 States at Risk; 16 States at High Risk

 Students Conduct Earthquake Preparedness Drill
Students conduct the “drop, cover, hold on” safety procedure during an earthquake preparedness drill. Photo Credit: Jessica Robertson, USGS

While all states have some potential for earthquakes, 42 of the 50 states have a reasonable chance of experiencing damaging ground shaking from an earthquake in 50 years (the typical lifetime of a building). Scientists also conclude that 16 states have a relatively high likelihood of experiencing damaging ground shaking. These states have historically experienced earthquakes with a magnitude 6 or greater.

The hazard is especially high along the west coast, intermountain west, and in several active regions of the central and eastern U.S., such as near New Madrid, MO, and near Charleston, SC. The 16 states at highest risk are Alaska, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

While these overarching conclusions of the national-level hazard are similar to those of the previous maps released in 2008, details and estimates differ for many cities and states. Several areas have been identified as being capable of having the potential for larger and more powerful earthquakes than previously thought due to more data and updated earthquake models. The most prominent changes are discussed below.

Informed Decisions Based on the Maps

With an understanding of potential ground shaking levels, various risk analyses can be calculated by considering factors like population levels, building exposure, and building construction practices. This is used for establishing building codes, and in the analysis of seismic risk for key structures. This can also help in determining insurance rates, emergency preparedness plans, and private property decisions such as re-evaluating one’s home and making it more resilient.

These maps are part of USGS contributions to the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP), which is a congressionally-established partnership of four federal agencies with the purpose of reducing risks to life and property in the U.S. that result from earthquakes. The contributing agencies are the USGS, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), National Institute of Standards and Technology, and National Science Foundation (NSF). As an example of the collaboration, the hazards identified in the USGS maps underlie FEMA-sponsored seismic design provisions that are incorporated into building codes adopted by states and localities. The maps also reflect investments in research by academic and other scientists supported by grants from the USGS and the NSF.

“The standards for seismic safety in building codes are directly based upon USGS assessments of potential ground shaking from earthquakes, and have been for years,” said Jim Harris, a member and former chair of the Provisions Update Committee of the Building Seismic Safety Council.
“The committees preparing those standards welcome this updated USGS information as a basis for making decisions and continuing to ensure the most stable and secure construction.”

Key Updates

East Coast
The eastern U.S. has the potential for larger and more damaging earthquakes than considered in previous maps and assessments. As one example, scientists learned a lot following the magnitude 5.8 earthquake that struck Virginia in 2011. It was among the largest earthquakes to occur along the east coast in the last century, and helped determine that even larger events are possible. Estimates of earthquake hazards near Charleston, SC, have also gone up due to the assessment of earthquakes in the state.

In New York City, the maps indicate a slightly lower hazard for tall buildings than previously thought (but still a hazard nonetheless). Scientists estimated a lower likelihood for slow shaking from an earthquake near the city. Slow shaking is likely to cause more damage to tall structures in contrast, compared to fast shaking which is more likely to impact shorter structures.

Central U.S.

The New Madrid Seismic Zone has been identified to have a larger range of potential earthquake magnitudes and locations than previously identified. This is a result of a range of new research, part of which was recently compiled by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
West Coast

In California, earthquake hazard extends over a wider area than previously thought. Most notably, faults were recently discovered, raising earthquake hazard estimates for San Jose, Vallejo and San Diego. On the other hand, new insights on faults and rupture processes reduced earthquake hazard estimates for Irvine, Santa Barbara and Oakland. Hazard increased in some parts of the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles region and decreased in other parts. These updates were from the new Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast Model, which incorporates many more potential fault ruptures than did previous assessments. Recent earthquakes in Alaska, Mexico and New Zealand taught scientists more about complex ruptures and how faults can link together. This insight was applied to California for which approximately 250,000 potential complex ruptures were modeled.

New research on the Cascadia Subduction Zone resulted in increased estimates of earthquake magnitude up to magnitude 9.3. Deep-sea cores were collected that show evidence within the sea-floor sediments of large earthquake-generated mudflows. Earthquake shaking estimates were also increased following abundant data gathered from the magnitude 9.0 earthquake in Tohoku, Japan in 2011 and the magnitude 8.2 earthquake offshore of Chile in 2014, as those events ruptured along subduction zones similar to the Pacific Northwest zone.

Damage to Washington National Cathedral
Damage to the Washington National Cathedral in DC from the earthquake in Virginia on August 23, 2011. Photo Credit: William Leith, USGS

In Washington, scientists incorporated new knowledge of the Tacoma Fault into the maps and identified changes to the geometry of the Whidbey Island fault in the northern Puget Sound. Earthquake hazard also increased for Las Vegas because of new science. In Utah, scientists dug trenches to study prehistoric earthquakes along the Wasatch Fault. While the overall seismic hazard didn’t change significantly, detailed changes were made to the fault models in this region and robust data were acquired to hone the assessments. This is valuable since approximately 75% of Utah’s population, including the residents of Salt Lake City, lives near this fault.

The magnitude 7.9 earthquake in Wenchuan, China in 2008 provided many new records of shaking that are very similar to anticipated future earthquakes in the western U.S., as the fault structures are similar. Previously, scientists did not have nearly as many shaking records from earthquakes of this size.

Induced Earthquakes … Research Underway

Some states have experienced increased seismicity in the past few years that may be associated with human activities such as the disposal of wastewater in deep wells.

One specific focus for the future is including an additional layer to these earthquake hazard maps to account for recent potentially triggered earthquakes that occur near some wastewater disposal wells. Injection-induced earthquakes are challenging to incorporate into hazard models because they may not behave like natural earthquakes and their rates change based on man-made activities.

You Can’t Plan If …

“USGS earthquake science is vital because you can’t plan for earthquakes if you don’t know what you are planning for,” said Mark Petersen, Chief of the USGS National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project. “Our nation’s population and exposure to large earthquakes has grown tremendously in recent years. The cost of inaction in planning for future earthquakes and other natural disasters can be very high, as demonstrated by several recent damaging events across the globe. It is important to understand the threat you face from earthquakes at home and the hazards for the places you might visit. The USGS is dedicated to applying the best available science in developing reliable products useful for reducing the earthquake risk across the U.S.”

Start with USGS Science

The USGS is the only federal agency with responsibility for recording and reporting earthquake activity nationwide and providing a seismic hazard assessment. The USGS regularly updates the national seismic hazard models and maps, typically every 6 years, in sync with the building code updates. The 2014 update focuses on the conterminous U.S. Maps are also available for Alaska (last updated in 2007); Hawaii (1998); Puerto Rico (2003); Guam and Marianna Islands (2012); and American Samoa (2012).

View the maps online at: here