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Hundreds turn out for fracking hearing in Raleigh

Public invited to meeting with North Carolina officials to comment on proposed rules for the oil and gas drilling method known as fracking.
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
The first of four public hearings on the future of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) got going Wednesday morning in Raleigh with cheers and jeers. A demonstration outside the N.C. State McKimmon Center drew almost 100 protesters and a handful of fracking supporters.

However, the real conversation kicked off inside in a room filled with more than 400 people listening to speaker after speaker talk about hydraulic fracturing. Their comments are summarized below. They are weighted heavily against fracking but only because the speakers were overwhelmingly critics. One spokesperson for an energy industry group estimated they were outnumbered 10 to 1. It might have been more.

Among the supporters who spoke was David McGowan with the North Carolina Energy Council. He said the group would be submitting detailed suggestions in writing before a September guideline that would draw from industry standards, regulations from other states, and best management practices. The comments would related to setback distances, casing requirements, blowout prevention, improvements for definitions, waste management plan, permit application procedures, etc. (There are all things critics lashed out about over the course of the meeting).

Critics included Vicky Ryder, who is concerned about the chemicals that fracking pumps into the ground. Hydraulic fracturing injects water laced with usually secret chemicals into shale rock deep underground, splits the rock apart, and pulls up the methane that's been trapped there for millions of years.

Ryder's concern is that "toxic chemicals refuse to stay where they're pumped."

Heidi Zanel echoed that worry, as she talked about the proximity of the shale drilling to water tables.

"It seems like a recipe disaster that could cause problems forever," said Zanel.

Dr. Susan DeLaney, a physician with the Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, also complained about the fact fracking companies -- as it stands -- won't have to disclose which chemicals they inject into the ground, considering that a "trade secret."

"I'm concerned about chronic exposure," DeLaney said. "It's unethical for a medical professional to stand here and knowingly pollute our air and water."

Ray Jackson expressed concern about "what's going to take place when there are spills, cause there will be spills."

It was a common theme from critics. Laura Gillian, from Durham was worried the state won't effectively monitor and enforce the rules it puts into place.

"We must not rely on oil and gas industries to monitor themselves," said Gillian.

Christine Carlson, from Chapel Hill, worried about storage.

"Draft rules allow open pits for waste storage, are prone to flooding, can leak to groundwater and are dangerous to wildlife," said Carlson. "The draft rules state that only spills over a barrel need to be documented which means that hundreds of thousands of gallons could be spilled with no one knowing. Let's face it, we can live without shale gas, but we can't live without clean air and water."

Linda Benjamin, from Durham, focused on land rights.

"How is it fair if the neighbors on either side of me agree to it without my consent? It means I don't have a choice," said Benjamin. "Is this freedom? What's a house worth without drinkable water and breathable air?"

Benjamin went on to point out that, as the rules are currently written, "Homeowners can request to know what chemicals are jeopardizing their wells but the frack companies can refuse to tell because it's a trade secret. That's just not fair."

Public officials including Creedmoor Mayor Darryl Moss also spoke out, concerned about the fact local cities and counties can't say no to fracking companies. The rules prevent municipalities from self-determination when it comes to hydraulic fracturing and Moss urged the commission to "put in place rules to preserve local control.

Neddie Lassiter, a 10th generation North Carolinian with Native American roots, put it bluntly.

"I'm asking this commission protect our waterways for our generations to come," said Lassiter.

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