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After initially being overlooked, WNC gets fracking hearing

The North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission has scheduled a public hearing on fracking for Western North Carolina. The hearing is slated for Sept. 12 on the Western Carolina University campus in Cullowhee.

Input gathered at the hearing will be taken into account as the MEC Commission hammers out the rules and regulations that will govern fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, in North Carolina. State lawmakers this year gave the thumbs-up to the method of natural gas exploration.

Jim Womack, chairman of the MEC Commission, said the unanimous decision to schedule the Cullowhee hearing was made because commissioners felt that “we should give voice to the people of the west.”

The MEC had previously scheduled three public hearings on fracking in August. One was in Sanford, another in Raleigh and the third in Reidsville. All hours away for western residents.

Although anyone may submit public comment by mail or electronically, western environmental organizations had called for the commission to schedule a hearing in Western North Carolina. 

“We are excited that this additional hearing will allow many more folks who are several hours away from the other scheduled hearings to participate,” said Hope Taylor, executive director for Clean Water NC. “We expect that a large number will attend and testify. We will be encouraging large turnout and informed, substantive comments about the many major problems with the draft Oil and Gas rules.”

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The hearing will last about four hours. Public speakers will be given three minutes to make their comments. Everything will be recorded.

Womack explained that, except for a reading off of an overview of the hearing, the conversation will be one-way. The format calls for a collection of public comments sans response from the commission.

“We’re not allowed really to enter into conversation,” said Womack.

Since the state legislature green-lighted fracking, opposition has mounted in pockets of the west. In addition to citizen interest, several local governments have passed resolutions against fracking, citing possible environmental pollution.

“We certainly are aware that that is going on, as is the legislature,” said Womack. 

The local resolutions are purely symbolic. Local governments are not allowed to ban fracking. 

“Local jurisdictions have no authority to restrict or prohibit drilling,” Womack said. “That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have some bearing. When they go to that extent of passing a resolution like that, even thought it’s symbolic, it’s still meaningful.”

The MEC chair said that the passage of such anti-fracking resolutions does not jive with state law and is “probably not a good thing.”

“It sends a signal to industry that the welcome mat has not been rolled out,” Womack said. 

The chair encouraged people to take note of public officials responsible for passing such local resolutions so that they could “go to the ballot box armed with that information.”

“If you disagree with them you ought to let them know because that’s not the state’s view,” said Womack. “That’s already been decided.”

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