Tensions boil over in Sanford on public hearing on fracking

Dueling drums and differing opinions clashed over the future of fracking in North Carolina, as about 200 people squeezed into the Wicker Civic Center in Sanford to sound off Friday night.
Dueling drums and differing opinions clashed over the future of fracking in North Carolina, as about 200 people squeezed into the Wicker Civic Center in Sanford to sound off Friday night.

It was the second contentious public hearing on the controversial mining practice held this week.

Wednesday, passionate activists gathered in Raleigh for the same reason: to address the North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission about its timeline to implement fracking in the state.

In addition to a spirited pre-meeting protest from both sides of the debate, the Sanford meeting saw a beefed up law enforcement presence with state troopers backing up local police and Harnett County Sheriff's deputies.

Fracking is the process of using horizontal drilling to inject water and chemicals at a high pressure into rock to extract oil and gas. The state is focusing on 15 counties, including Lee County, which currently has two known active gas wells.

"I don't believe our government and legislature would pass legislation that was bad for this state," said one resident who was heckled by anti-fracking supporters while he spoke.

At issue is the state's new law passed earlier this summer lifting the prohibition of fracking permits. Those who support fracking tout its safety track record and economic impact as pluses, but those who oppose say there are too many unknowns.

"The biggest thing I can't understand is that people say it's going to bring jobs, but we're never told what type of jobs those are," one resident told the crowd.

Emotions boiled over when one woman, originally from northeast Pennsylvania, revealed three of her loved ones, who lived near a fracking site, all died of cancer within an 18-month period.

"We'll never know if their deaths were related to fracking because Pennsylvania has banned their doctors from disclosing to patients if they suspect that there is any connection whatsoever to fracking," she uttered as her voice trembled.

Regulations to protect fracking company trade secrets are the kind of rules the MEC is considering as it collects feedback to draw up the state's industry regulations.

The MEC's public hearing phase began July 15 and runs through Sept. 15, with the next hearing scheduled Aug. 25 in Wentworth at Rockingham County High School.

Once the General Assembly approves the rules next spring, fracking could begin as soon as mid-summer of 2015.

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