NATURAL GAS EXPLORATION: Health implications discussed at Stand Your Ground meeting

Mar. 20, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

Although many of the speakers and the topics they covered at a meeting Tuesday night held by anti-fracking activists were familiar, there was one significant change — the average age of the audience was much younger than in most meetings related to the subject.

Generally, at meetings about hydraulic fracturing — a controversial drilling method used to extract natural gas — there have been few audience members who appeared to be younger than 35. But at the Tuesday meeting organized by Stand Your Ground, N.C, at least 10 attendees in the audience of about 45 people looked to be in their 20s or 30s, and several people even brought their children.

Therese Vick, a community organizer with the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, made the case that fracking will affect everyone — not just landowners or mineral owners — because of public health implications. Even disregarding the oft-debated safety of the chemicals injected into the ground during the process, she said, emissions from the hundreds of thousands of semi truck trips that will be required will harm the young and the old alike.

"Just the added diesel fuels alone in Lee County will send people to the hospital," she said. "There will be asthma attacks. There will be premature deaths. ... I have hundreds of health studies and hundreds of documented media reports about (the effects of fracking-related) traffic."

Ed Harris, a local landowner who organized a similar event last month, brought up Senate Bill 76, which if passed would lift the current moratorium on fracking by 2015 whether there are regulations in place or not. It would also allow companies to dispose of the chemical-infused waste water that's a by-product of fracking by injecting it into the ground — a technique that has been outlawed for decades in North Carolina.

One audience member said, with resignation, that as dangerous as that could end up being, it probably wouldn't be any more dangerous than burning the water and letting the chemicals dissipate into the air, another method of dealing with the water that can't be cleaned by water treatment plants.

James Robinson, research and policy associate at Pittsboro-based Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI) and a member of the Compulsory Pooling Study Group of the N.C. Mining and Energy Committee, spoke about pooling issues — a multi-faceted issue on which readers can find past articles about at www.sanfordherald.com under the menu item News: Mining and Energy.

Robinson said compulsory pooling does have its pros and cons, but that RAFI doesn't support it. However, 40 states (including North Carolina) allow it, and he said it will likely continue to be legal here. In that case, he said, the group wants at least a super-majority of landowners to be voluntary participants. He encouraged the audience to contact members of the study group, led by Lee County landowner Ray Covington, to make their voices heard "whether it's a perfect process or not," although he did say the group is actually more receptive to input than some have claimed.