NC officials need to listen to fracking opponents on rules

08/25/2014 5:13 PM

08/26/2014 4:12 AM

Republicans who successfully pushed North Carolina into an accelerated schedule for fracking speak of it as an utterly safe procedure that will lead to an economic boom. But there are plenty of North Carolinians who beg to differ.

People attending a Sanford hearing last week, as with a previous hearing in Raleigh, showed the depth of concern and the emotional opposition to fracking. James Womack, a Lee County commissioner and member of the state’s Mining and Energy Commission, unfortunately had

threatened to cancel the hearing over what he said were security concerns. That would have sent an unfortunate message indeed about the commission’s willingness to genuinely listen to fracking opponents.

Though they were vocal with boos for pro-fracking speakers, fracking opponents were fewer than anticipated.

But their objections are legitimate, especially because Republicans in control of the governor’s office and the General Assembly have weakened environmental regulation across the board. Injecting high pressure water and chemicals into the earth to release natural gas and petroleum from deep rock formations without adequate rules in place is especially imprudent.

Fracking advocates, many of them associated with energy companies that would benefit from widespread fracking should gas be found, contend that the process is safe and will lead to countless jobs for North Carolina.

But the risks are many, including earth tremors that can make land unstable, not to mention questionable assaults on property rights. In a process called forced pooling, the state would require landowners to submit to fracking whether they wanted to or not if just one neighbor signed a drilling lease.

Opponents at the hearings now in progress in a supposed effort to get public input into fracking rules also say that storing water with chemicals infused in it in open pits is dangerous. Fracking gas wells also should be set back farther from homes and water wells and waterways than the proposed rules call for.

Sanford residents have a particular interest because their county is viewed as a likely site for fracking.

Proponents have made the case they’ve made elsewhere: More exploration could lead to energy independence, important not just within the United States but in terms of keeping the country out of wars over oil. They are as fervent in their beliefs as opponents are in theirs, and, yes, those favoring fracking deserve to be heard.

State officials might have found these hearings unpleasant. Opponents who focused on disruption rather than making their good points with regard to the proposed rules might not have helped their cause.

But the Mining and Energy Commission, if it is to give its regulations any credibility, should respect and listen to those who have legitimate concerns and toughen and change rules accordingly. Otherwise, these hearings will be regarded as little more than a necessary and inconvenient formality and meaningless.

North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Mining and Energy Commission repeatedly promised North Carolina the safest hydraulic fracturing rules in the country. Now that fracking is upon us, with permits expected to be issued in May, their keeping that vow is paramount.

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