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County to begin enforcing oil/gas field fencing, signage ordinance

HATTIESBURG — Forrest County is soon to begin enforcing a fencing and signage ordinance for local oil and gas fields that was contested and affirmed by the Mississippi Supreme Court earlier this year.

Sheriff Billy McGee tells The Hattiesburg American his deputies likely will begin enforcing the ordinance this week after briefings on the ordinance’s provisions and a survey of oil operations within the county.

The supervisors passed the ordinance on Sept. 9, 2010. The ordinance requires oil and gas operations in Forrest County to install a 5-foot perimeter fence with barbed wire standing at least 25 feet away from any site improvements, provide locking gates at points of access to the inside of the fence, display warning signs on storage tanks and provide locking gates on storage tank stairwells.

Board of Supervisors attorney David Miller said violations can be punished by up to $1,000 per violation per day each violation continues, at the discretion of a justice court judge.

The ordinance was enacted following the Oct. 31, 2009, deaths of Devon Byrd, 16, and Wade White, 18, in an explosion at an unfenced Delphi Oil Inc. tank in southern Forrest County.

In the wake of the teens’ deaths, family and friends pleaded with county supervisors to put an ordinance in place to safeguard the sites to prevent another tragedy.

Delphi contested the ordinance in Forrest County Circuit Court following its passage, arguing the rule pre-empted state regulatory authority.

Forrest County Circuit Court Judge Bob Helfrich ruled in 2012 that the ordinance was legal, and the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld his decision in June after Delphi appealed.

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