Fracking opponents dominate Chapel Hill hearing

A third hearing on state’s natural gas drilling report is set for Monday in Pittsboro

CorrespondentMarch 28, 2012 

FRACKING01.NE.032712.CAT

Monica Ganguly (cq), left, ventured to the other side of the street to speak with pro-shale proponents, such as Dan McGee (cq). Protestors from both sides of the fracking issue showed their support with signs and chants outside East Chapel Hill High school on Tuesday March 27, 2012 before the second DENR fracking hearing.

CASEY TOTH

  • A third hearing on the draft report on fracking by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday at The Barn at Fearrington Village, 100 Village Way, in Pittsboro.

    The agency also is taking written comments through Monday.

    Send email comments to shale_gas_comments@ncdenr.gov or through the mail to NCDENR, attn: Trina Ozer, 1601 MSC, Raleigh, NC 27699.

    Source: N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources

— Opponents of a controversial natural-gas drilling process called fracking dominated the conversation Tuesday evening at a public hearing in Chapel Hill that drew more than 600 people.

The critics cited concerns about potential water contamination, air pollution and damage to agriculture and tourism industries as they urged the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and state officials to take a step back and think about possible long-term damage.

The audience greeted fracking supporters with laughter, hissing and boos when they touted drilling for gas in shale rock as a safe way to build the nation’s energy independence and create more jobs. Critics interrupted them often, yelling “you’re lying” or “tell the truth.”

The hearing at East Chapel Hill High School was the second since the state’s environmental agency issued a draft report concluding that fracking can be done safely in North Carolina with the right laws and regulations in place. A third hearing, announced Tuesday by Democratic state Rep. Joe Hackney of Chapel Hill, will take place Monday in Pittsboro. Several lawmakers were in the audience at the hearing but did not speak.

A 1,400-square-mile area that includes Lee, Moore and Chatham counties is believed to contain underground rock formations with trapped shale gas. The area may reach as far east as Durham and Wake counties.

Bill Weatherspoon, executive director of the N.C. Petroleum Council, said fracking is safe if North Carolina learns from other states’ mistakes and writes its own regulations and permitting requirements for the industry.

In other states, fracking is plagued with questions and accusations about water contamination, earth tremors and other problems, though the severity of the issues is disputed.

Fracking involves drilling a well vertically and then horizontally into the shale formation. Fracturing fluid – water, sand and chemicals – is pumped into the well under pressure to fracture the shale and help collect the gas.

Roughly 30 protesters from the Sierra Club, an environmental group, and an equal number from FreedomWorks, a tea party group, lined the school’s driveway with signs before the hearing.

Judi Mills, who came from Staley for the hearing, said people who support fracking seem to be more concerned about money and jobs than the environment.

“I’m all for job creation, but not at the cost of water quality,” she said. “We’re not collateral damage. Our children are not collateral damage.”

Don McGee, a Statesville resident, said he came to the meeting to join about 30 other FreedomWorks members from several counties who support shale gas drilling.

“I feel it’s safe. We need the energy and we need the jobs here in this state. I believe it can be done the right way, and I believe (government officials) have done a good job working on it,” McGee said. “I believe North Carolina can do it by watching what other states have done. Do it the right way, and set a precedent for other states to follow.”

A final DENR draft report on fracking is due to the legislature by May 1. The agency will take the public comments from the hearings and incorporate them into the final version.

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