Fracking rules up for comment

Aug. 20, 2014 @ 05:01 AM

Lee County citizens and government officials are preparing for the local public hearing on the rules regarding hydraulic fracturing in North Carolina, which will be held from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center in Sanford.

“We expect to have a crowd of somewhere between 500 and 700,” said Lee County Commissioner Jim Womack, a member and former chairman of the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission. “I want to see every seat filled. I think it will be great.”

The MEC, responsible for writing 126 rules that could potentially govern fracking in North Carolina, will hold four public hearings on the draft rules. The first one, in Raleigh, is today from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. A third meeting will be held in Reidsville on Aug. 25, and the final one will be Sept. 8 at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee.

“It’s time for us to hear from the people,” said Sanford City Councilman Charles Taylor, also a member of the MEC. “We were tasked with striking a balance between allowing hydraulic fracturing to take place, but also protecting our resources. I think we’ve done a heck of a job. … But [the rules] are not above reproach. I think something’s going to come out of these hearings.”

Lee County horse farmer Keely Wood plans to attend the hearing to speak her mind on what she considers a number of holes in the draft rules. Her main complaint was that the distances for setbacks, the areas between surface locations of well sites and adjacent properties, were inadequate.

“I don’t agree with any of the setback rules,” Wood said. “We have other cities changing their setback rules to higher standards than we have, asking for 1,500 feet.”

The largest setbacks in the rules, 650 feet, are for occupied dwellings and buildings such as schools.

MEC member and Sanford resident Ray Covington said there is little evidence as to what the optimal setback distance is.

“We’ve recommended clearly some of the most stringent setbacks in the country,” Covington said. “There are a few municipalities who’ve made them longer, but ours are clearly in the top high percentage when it comes to setbacks.”

Therese Vick, a Raleigh-based activist with the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, said she would be busy throughout the week making sure people are aware of the hearing and the rules being proposed.

“I think most of us are talking to our membership, talking to others, letting folks know where the big holes are in the rules,” said Vick, an outspoken opponent of fracking. “Laws can be passed. Laws can be repealed. Laws can be amended. Anything they can do in Raleigh can be undone if they have the will to do so. ... This is certainly not the end of the issue.”

MEC Chairman Vikram Rao said he was interested in the public’s thoughts on waste management, one of Vick’s main concerns. The draft rules allow for both open pits and above-ground storage tanks for fracking waste.

“We have received oral feedback during meetings pushing back against pits in the ground,” Rao said.

Womack said he encouraged people for and against fracking to speak their minds at the hearing, noting that he expected some people to use the forum to protest the practice.

“We anticipate there will be a good amount of those who will come to talk about fracking but don’t know anything about fracking,” Womack said. “We expect to hear a little bit about that, and their First Amendment rights will be protected. We will listen to that and give it the appropriate weight that it deserves.”

Both Womack and Taylor encouraged all who participate in the hearing to study the rules closely and provide input on how they can be changed and improved.

“I hope citizens come out,” Taylor said, “and I look forward to hearing their opinions.”

The draft rules can be found in their entirety at portal.ncdenr.org/web/mining-and-energy-commission/home.