Despite the fact that the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has curbed plans to test for shale rock–which contains the natural gas deposits targeted by hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”–in Western North Carolina, the Mountain Xpress estimated that around 560 people showed up at the fourth and final public hearing held September 12 on the campus of Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, more than had been present at any of the previous hearings in Raleigh, Sanford, and Reidsville near areas with more concentrated shale rock.
The Asheville weekly reported that three members of the Mining and Energy Commission (MEC), the division of DENR tasked with drafting regulatory guidelines for managing oil and gas exploration in NC, listened to over four hours of comments from attendees who were overwhelmingly opposed to fracking. This summer the NC General Assembly voted to lift a moratorium on the controversial procedure, which could make it possible for the state to issue permits to obtain natural gas as early as May 2015.
Speakers called for a reinstatement of the moratorium and suggested rules that would promote public health and safety rather than threaten it, such as mandatory disclosure of the chemicals used in drilling and high-pressure blasting, regular and long-term testing of groundwater, and storing waste water in sealed tanks rather than in exposed containers. Some cited concern over the “Halliburton Loophole,” which exempts fracking from normal federal environmental regulations as a result of the 2005 Energy Policy Act, a project championed by former Vice President Dick Cheney. The only way to hold hydraulic fracturing operations to the EPA’s standard rules is for Congress to repeal the Act.
More from the Mountain Xpress:
Madison County resident Peter Robbins argued that fracking creates unique risks in WNC, which has steep-slopes, a diverse ecosystem and an abundance of wildlife. He cited problems related to narrow roads not equipped for the possible 24-hour traffic drilling entails, a lack of cell-phone service in many areas that makes emergency response impossible, and the frequency of landslides. “I came to suggest one practical solution,” he said, “which is to include a provision that says: In WNC, because of the severe and unique risks and the very small likelihood of any economic gain, we won’t allow fracking at this time.”
Sabrina DiCarlo, office manager at Smart Start of Buncombe County, a nonprofit early-childhood agency, echoed Hill’s sentiments. “The truth is,” said DiCarlo, “currently there is no safe way to frack. This can even be seen in the exemptions. Any industry that requires exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act should be considered fundamentally unsafe.”
Di Carlo summed up the sentiment of the hearing by saying, “We all want jobs for ourselves and neighbors. And we all enjoy using energy every day. The difference is that we believe that there are cleaner and safer ways to get there and that fracking is not the answer.”
Public comments on oil and gas development rules were accepted at each of the meetings. The public is invited to submit written comments until September 30, either electronically through DENR’s Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources’ website or mailed to
DENR-Division of Energy, Mineral, and Land Resources
Attn: Oil and Gas Program
1612 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1612
Environmental groups and others warn that fracking uses toxic chemicals that contaminate water, imposing severe threats to the environment and public health with equally grave implications for NC’s agriculture and food systems. Advocates believe fracking would bring jobs and industry to the state and provide cost-efficient sources of natural gas.
Though Western North Carolina is not immediately subject to fracking, Asheville’s Citizen-Times reports that
the most promising areas for fracking in the state are generally considered to be in the Deep River shale formation that runs from southern Granville County through parts of the Triangle southwest to the Union-Anson county line.
But it is possible that other parts of the state could yield natural gas if fracked, geologists say, and the General Assembly has provided funds for limited testing of rocks in a formation called the Precambrian Rift in Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties.
Landowners in the Central Piedmont and Sandhills regions have already been approached by outside companies that have begun to explore obtaining leases for mineral rights in counties across the state, registering as landmen with NCDENR as required by state law. One company, Pennsylvania’s Crimson Holdings Corporation, was issued a cease and desist order by the Department of Justice for violating the law. According to RAFI USA, the Pittsboro farm advocacy group,
Rural landowners and farmers in North Carolina shale-bearing counties are not well informed of the potential risks of hydraulic fracturing to their land. Gas companies are not providing objective information about the benefits and drawback of natural gas extraction. Many are not consulting an attorney before signing a lease.
There are over 2,100 farms in Chatham, Lee, and Moore Counties accounting for over 220,000 acres of farmland. Approximately 59,000 acres in rural Lee County alone are expected to be targeted for drilling, with unknown additional acreage in Chatham, Moore, and Durham Counties. Over 9,400 acres in Lee County have already been leased by gas companies under predatory mineral rights leases.
They further advise landowners to consult with an attorney before signing any paperwork with development companies.