SANFORD CITY COUNCIL: MEC official urges public to comment on proposed rules

Jul. 17, 2014 @ 05:03 AM

It will be imperative for local citizens to voice opinions and concerns about hydraulic fracturing during the Mining and Energy Commission's upcoming public hearings, according to the commission's soon-to-be vice chairwoman.

The commission will hold three public hearings throughout August in Raleigh, Sanford and Reidsville. The Sanford hearing at the Wicker Center is set for Aug. 22, and MEC Commissioner Amy Pickle urged anyone who wished to voice their comments or concerns to the commission to do so, either verbally at the hearing or in writing.

Pickle, who will become vice chairwoman next month, summarized the rules and regulations on fracking the commission has been creating for more than a year to the Sanford City Council during the council's meeting Tuesday.

"We need full, comprehensive, well-cited rules," Pickle told the council. "The best way for North Carolina to have strong, protective rules is for everyone to present full, complete comments."

Pickle also took questions from council members regarding the commission's rules and how fracking would affect Sanford and Lee County.

Councilwoman Rebecca Wyhof raised concerns about the fracking industry's impact on Sanford's infrastructure, and Pickle acknowledged that area roadways would most likely face increased traffic and heavier strain.

"No doubt when you go from a relatively small, urbanizing, suburban or rural area to an area with a significant amount of industrial activity, you will have a large impact on the roads," Pickle said. "One of the biggest impacts to look at is degradation of roads and transportation infrastructure. If you're having those impacts in your community, there would need to be a mechanism where you can address them."

Pickle said it was important that all parties involved benefit from the economic uplift she expects from fracking, and that the state would need to ensure the flow of money toward infrastructure be directed to areas suffering the greatest impact.

Councilman Sam Gaskins, a chemistry professor at Guilford Technical Community College, expressed concerns about the chemicals used in fracking and the Energy Modernization Act's stipulation that chemicals considered trade secrets need not be disclosed to the public.

"On chemical disclosure," Pickle said, "what the rule requires is that you have to disclose everything unless you are asserting a trade secret. If that is the case, you have to come before the [Mining and Energy Commission] and prove you do indeed have a legal right ... to assert a trade secret."

Pickle said that even if companies were able to claim a trade secret on certain chemicals, they would still need to turn over the information to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Gaskins also asked about property owners affected by the installation of fracking wells and the compulsory pooling element of the act.

"We have 214 parcels of land [in Sanford] over 10 acres," Gaskins said. "Is there going to be any protection for [property owners], especially with the forced pooling?"

Pickle described compulsory pooling as a mechanism by which the state can force property owners who hold mineral rights into a single unit when it comes to purchasing drilling rights.

"There are a number of reasons somebody might not want to be in that pool," Pickle said. "They don't support the practice. They don't like the company. They want to hold out for a higher price.

"It's hard to swallow. It is a hard thing for most people who own property, but there is a good reason."

Pickle said compulsory pooling allows for drilling areas to be drained efficiently and economically without leaving large pockets undrained, but that the issue was, and would continue to be, controversial.

"I think the way I can be most helpful to you all," Pickle told the council in closing, "is to encourage you as much as possible to participate in the public process. It doesn't guarantee the outcome, but it is better to start with the best set of rules we can possibly do for North Carolina."

Sanford Mayor Chet Mann said the council was focused on what was best for Sanford and for North Carolina. He said the council always encouraged citizens to come forth during public hearings with comments and suggested the council members do the same in regard to the Aug. 22 hearing at the Wicker Center.

During the meeting, the council also:

* Approved the closure of a number of streets for National Night Out on Aug. 5.

* Changed the time of its law and finance meetings from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

*Approved an ordinance making it easier for the city to remove nuisances.

* Planned a work session for July 30 to discuss Brick Capital Community Development Corporation's financial situation.