Public's feedback sought as fracking rules are finalized
The democratic process has gone into effect on fracking in North Carolina, with everyone now invited to submit comments, questions and suggestions about proposed rules and regulations for the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing.
The public will be able to comment on the rules — which the Mining and Energy Commission (MEC) has suggested the General Assembly officially adopt — until Sept. 15 by mailing a written statement to: Oil and Gas Program, DENR Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources, 1612 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, N.C. 27699.
At least three public hearings will be held, including one in Sanford, for people to make oral comments on the rules. The rules can be viewed online at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mining-and-energy-commission/draft-rules. An email address and website also are listed on that page for people to submit comments electronically.
The MEC, which is led by Lee County Commissioner Jim Womack, has been working on developing the rules since 2012. The group is composed of a number of political, economic, scientific and legal experts, including several with local ties.
Those rules are now under official scrutiny by the general public, and there will even be one public hearing in Sanford, held from 5-9 p.m. Aug. 22 at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center. Womack said he welcomes public input, although he's confident in the draft report his group finalized earlier this summer and doesn't expect too many rules to be changed, added or dropped.
"In the end, most of them will slide on through there without any changes," he said. "And when all is said and done, I'm guessing the rules will go through (the General Assembly) relatively unscathed because everything has been pretty well vetted so far."
However, some environmental activists have said they think people are growing increasingly wary of hydraulic fracturing and increasingly likely to call for stricter protections.
Hope Taylor, a former biochemist who now directs anti-fracking group Clean Water for North Carolina, said she has been in Lee County speaking with people recently, and that locals are noticeably more agitated than when her group was down here in 2012 right after drilling got a potential go-ahead.
"I would say the level of interest and concern has definitely increased in the last two years," she said. "... The sense of readiness and willingness to deal with it seemed a lot greater than before."
Taylor said she was down here most recently trying to get people to test their water before any drilling occurs. An all-inclusive test in Lee County costs less than $100 — one of the cheapest rates in the state, she said — and anyone can get one by contacting the county's environmental health department at (919) 718-4641.
She also encouraged people to write in comments or show up to the Aug. 22 local hearing — especially people with concerns or objections.
Another recent hearing in Sanford drew a band of anarchist protesters from Carrboro, who whistled and banged drums outside the civic center while holding an anti-drilling banner. Womack said they created so much noise that some people inside reported trouble hearing the speakers.
But Womack said that although he is a proponent of drilling, he also wants to give anti-drilling speakers — generally the vast majority of speakers at public hearings — the opportunity to be heard and to ensure that the MEC can properly record the hearing for review and possible responses. So, he said, he will provide a stronger sound system than before and also look into banning instruments from being played within a few hundred feet of the civic center.
"I don't have a problem with them playing their drums and blowing their whistles," he said. "But the people inside the room do have the right to hear."
Womack said he plans to round up some friends with drums and other instruments to play outside the civic center at various distances, while someone sits inside to monitor the noise levels and find the minimum distance to alleviate disturbances.