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Chapel Hill Public Meeting on "Fracking"

Hannah Shaw
Leoneda Inge

The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources got an earful last night in Chapel Hill as the debate over natural gas exploration heats up.  Scientists and everyday citizens packed East Chapel Hill High School to have their say on DENR’s draft report on hydraulic fracturing, sometimes known as “fracking.”  That’s the controversial process used to extract natural gas from shale rock underground.  An overwhelming number of voices at the hearing were against fracking and the negative impact they worry it could have on the environment here.

Leoneda Inge:  You couldn’t miss the turn into East Chapel Hill High School. Part of the sidewalk was lined with black and yellow signs reading “Caution, Frack Free Zone.”   On one side of the sidewalk, there were banners and a bullhorn.  Renee’ Maas of Food and Water Watch.

Renee' Maas:  The big oil and gas industry is trying to dupe you and they are trying to dupe our elected officials in this state by thinking we are going to stand for fracking.  Are we going to stand for fracking? No!

On the other side of the sidewalk, dressed in matching red t-shirts and signs that read “Shale Yes”, were folks like Dan McGee.

Dan McGee:  Jobs are very important. Safety is very important. Drilling is very important. And we can drill without ruining the water system.

The Raging Grannies decked out in decorated granny straw hats took sides in song.

Raging Grannies:  We’re a gaggle of grannies, urging you off of your fannies.  We’re angry and how, we’re telling you now, don’t frack here!

That was only a warm up.  The real show was inside the high school auditorium – 600 people filled the seats.

Marguerite Coyle:  So take your freaking fracturing drills and keep them from our town. We don’t want your fracking turning all our water brown.  Take your freaking fracking drills or we will shut you down.  Hydro-fracturing just sucks!

There is so much interest in this topic, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, DENR, has been live streaming the public meetings on the internet.  Robin Smith is Assistant Secretary for Environment at DENR.  Smith reminded the crowd just like she did at last week’s public meeting in Chatham County they are working under tight constraints.

Robin Smith:  We have very limited information about the shale gas resource in North Carolina. We know that there is a geologic formation that runs roughly on a diagonal the center of the state, it reaches into about 13 counties, or pieces of 13 counties.  We do not know, however, exactly what the quality amount of that resource is.

Still, DENR’s Draft Report concluded that “fracking” could be done safely in North Carolina if the right protections are in place.  Jim Erb agrees.  He worked for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for more than 25 years is is now a consultant.

Jim Erb:  I watched a webinar of your public hearing in Sanford last week.  The general scene seems to be, do it right.   I think you are doing it right.  With market conditions as they are, you have time to put a proper regulatory program in place. Keep up the good work.

When Cullen Zimmer signed-in to speak, under affiliation, he wrote “Tree-hugger.” He wants lawmakers to withdraw the hydraulic fracturing bill altogether.

Cullen Zimmer:  Keep North Carolina variety vacation land.  Keep North Carolina Yankee retirement land.  Keep North Carolina the southern part of heaven. Leave the pie in the sky and the gas in the ground.

The last day for the public to make comments on the Draft Report is next Monday.  The final version of the report is due in legislators’ hands May 1st.

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