Southern Pines Native Pioneered Law on Gas Drilling
A Southern Pines native, who has become the first woman to be city attorney for Fort Worth, Texas, is a pioneer in writing laws dealing with new gas mining methods.
Sarah Jon Fullenwider was appointed city attorney last week. She is a third-generation lawyer and the daughter of Edith Fullenwider and the late W. Harry Fullenwider, of Southern Pines.
As Fort Worth city attorney, she will oversee 39 municipal lawyers and 13 support staffers, the city manager said in making the announcement.
Before taking over the Fort Worth legal department, Fullenwider was chief land-use attorney for the city and principal adviser in leases for mineral rights owned by Fort Worth.
In 2001, Fullenwider drafted a pioneering gas drilling ordinance for the city. That law became a prototype ordinance for other municipalities dealing with shale gas drilling issues like those now facing North Carolina.
As part of preparation for writing that legislation, Fullenwider led four task force committees on gas drilling that worked with Texas state legislators and industry representatives. She drafted an update in 2008.
Fullenwider began with the city in 1997 as a prosecutor. She has practiced law since 1989 and is a licensed attorney in both Texas and North Carolina.
In a Thursday telephone interview, Fullenwider paid tribute to her father, who she said was her inspiration.
“I miss him every day,” she said.
Fullenwider graduated from Pinecrest High School in 1973 and received her law degree from Wake Forest School of Law in 1989.
“The gas drilling ordinance was written to protect the people of Fort Worth,” she said. “It deals with quality of life issues and public health and safety.”
Since her first ordinance regulating drilling was signed into law Dec. 11, 2001, more than 1,000 permits were issued for drilling and production of gas within city limits. By 2006, gas drilling and production had moved from sparsely populated areas in the northern part of the city to more densely urbanized areas in the southern, western and eastern parts of town.
The 2006 update to that law increased permitted distance requirements for high-impact permits, increased notification to the residents of Fort Worth, provided additional noise abatement procedures, site security and signage, and other revisions to provide additional protections of surface property rights but continue to allow access to the minerals.
“We wanted to protect our residents’ health and welfare while minimizing the potential impact to surface property and rights of mineral owners,” she said. “We wanted to improve the quality of life while allowing continued access to the minerals.”
One concern expressed in the ordinance she wrote was over the amount of natural gas and vapors released to the environment whenever a shale well is being “flowed” after hydraulic fracturing of the underlying shale formation in a process called “frac’ing” that forces massive amounts of water and sand through the rock to allow its trapped gas to move.
Fullenwider’s law provides for “safeguards and regulations for present and future operations related to the exploring, drilling, developing, producing, transporting and storing of gas and other substances produced in association with gas within the city to protect the health and general welfare of the public; minimize the potential impact to property and mineral rights owners, protect the quality of the environment and encourage the orderly production of available mineral resources.”
All these same concerns may need regulation in North Carolina, whether (as in Fort Worth) by town ordinance or statewide by statute, if shale formations under Moore, Lee, Chatham and other counties are to be mined for natural gas.
Fullenwider may have written laws in Texas that her home state will someday use as a model.
Contact John Chappell at email@example.com.
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