Opponents, proponents of fracking speak at Sanford meeting
By Steve DeVane
SANFORD – People in Lee and surrounding counties told state officials Monday night they had numerous concerns about a controversial method of drilling for natural gas called fracking.
About 310 people attended a meeting about the state’s plan to study the environmental and economic impact of natural gas exploration in the Sandhills.
Large deposits of natural gas are believed to be buried in prehistoric rock formations beneath the region.
Most of the 35 speakers at the meeting either opposed fracking, which is known as hydraulic fracturing, or urged state officials to proceed cautiously.
Six members of Croatan Earth First, an environmental group based in the Triangle, protested before the meeting.
They carried signs that said, “Don’t frack with my water,” and “Water is life! Don’t frack it.”
About 10 feet away, four ladies who called themselves the “Raging Grannies” sang songs with anti-fracking lyrics.
“We are very, very concerned about the quality of air, water and soil,” said Ruth Zalph, one of the members of the group.
The ladies sang one of the songs during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“No fracking, no way,” they sang. “We say keep those frackers away.”
Officials from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources talked about the study and asked for feedback.
Several people said more money and time is needed to look into the issue. The General Assembly allocated $100,000 for the study, which is scheduled to be completed by May.
Sanford resident George Birchard said he didn’t think the state’s plan showed an ability to regulate the gas industry.
“You do not realize how big a tiger you have by the tail,” he said.
Jeff Sheer said he and his wife own property near Deep River, where shale believed to contain natural gas is near the surface. Sheer said he’s seen a lot of commercials promoting natural gas exploration.
“When you see that many television commercials telling you how safe it is, you can only imagine how much lobbying is going on up in Raleigh to get people to vote for this,” he said.
Sheer said lawmakers can’t cut the department’s budget and expect it to monitor the natural gas industry.
Robin Smith, the department’s assistant secretary for the environment, said the organization would try to answer as many questions as it could.
“We’re going to do the best job we can with the resources and time we have,” she said.
Rep. Mike Stone, a Republican from Sanford, and Rep. Mitch Gillespie, a Republican from Marion, co-sponsored the law calling for the issue to be studied. Both were at the meeting.
Stone said he appreciated people raising questions.
“I want to assure you, I want the answers to those questions,” he said.
Gillespie said several more steps might be needed after the study is complete.
“I assure you whatever happens, you’ll be satisfied with the outcome,” he said.
Before the meeting, Gillespie said he wants a comprehensive study.
“My experience in government is most of the time public hearings don’t matter,” he said. “I can tell you, this one matters.”
The department is accepting written comments by mail or email through Oct. 18. The department’s address is 1601 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1601. The email address is on the department’s website at ncdenr.gov.