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Fracking opponents sweep public hearing

fr frackingIt didn’t take but a glance around the lawn of the Liston B. Ramsey Center at Western Carolina University to see that Sept. 12 was going to be an eventful evening.

Half an hour before North Carolina’s fourth and final hearing on the state Mining and Energy Commission’s proposed oil and gas rules, the parking lot was filling up and a sign-bearing crowd huddled around a white tent. There, a lineup of speakers from organizations opposing fracking gave their two cents about what makes North Carolina beautiful, how fracking threatens that and what the MEC needed to hear from Western North Carolina’s speakers. 

The people there to hear them sported jeans, suits, dreadlocks, pixie cuts and all modes of dress between. Some were old, some young, some middle aged. A diverse group, but a single mindset — there should be no fracking in WNC. 

“One of the things I want to talk about is, what happens to our small towns when these things come in?” Susan Leading Fox of the Swain County Coalition Against Fracking said, tearing up. 

Her husband Greg followed her up to close out the pre-hearing festivities with a Ponca Indian prayer song, accompanying himself on a handheld drum. 

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“It’s basically asking for help for those that are in need of it,” Greg Leading Fox explained after the gathering closed. “To me, it is a healing song that back home [in Oklahoma] they use a lot for people that ask for help.”

Closer to the Ramsey Center entrance, a small group of men wearing blue shirts bearing the words “Shale Yes!” stood alone in the parking lot. The recently disbanded group of fracking opponents, along with a crowd now pouring in, walked past them into the arena. Some made claim to one of the folding chairs set out on the concrete floor, while others signed up to speak. Though, at 10 minutes before start time, 92 people had already put their names down to give a 3-minute spiel, more already than the four-hour hearing would be able to accommodate. 

At exactly five o’clock, State Geologist Kenneth Taylor opened the hearing, sharing the stage with MEC members Jim Womack and Amy Pickle. He instructed attendees to stick to their three minutes, to submit written comments if 9 o’clock came before their turn to speak and to sit toward the back of the room if displaying signs. 

SEE ALSO: Fracking opponents: What they saidFracking opponents question show of fracking support at hearing

He gave those instructions to the largest crowd of any of the four oil and gas hearings held throughout the state. The Department of Environment and Natural Resource’s estimate, based on a sign-in sheet on a table at the entrance to the auditorium that likely did not capture every attendee, was 564 people, with 107 signing up to speak. The next most well-attended hearing was the one in Sanford, which drew 517 people. The Raleigh hearing brought in 454 people, and 379 came to the one in Wentworth, according to DENR’s estimate. 

Along with the force in numbers came the force in opinion. Of the 80 people who had a turn at the mic, not one spoke in favor of the rules. All expressed serious concerns about the proposed regulations and nearly all said they did not believe North Carolina should allow fracking at all. 

“If it is true that the permits for fracking cannot be given out until the proposed rules are approved, then it could be also true that this commission has the power to throw the brakes on the fracking industry for this state,” Shawna Gilmore told the MEC representatives as applause broke out through the room. “Instead, what if you tell the legislators what you’ve heard from the public as you’ve sat through these many hours and listened to these hundreds of passionate speeches and fielded the anger that should have gone toward them?”

Gilmore’s speech wasn’t the only one that garnered applause. Speakers covered a range of ground and represented a range of backgrounds — scientists, teachers, local government officials, parents, business owners, emergency rescue workers and college students.

 

Let your voice be heard

The hearing is over, but the Mining and Energy Commission will accept written comments on the proposed oil and gas rules through Sept. 30. Comment online at http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mining-and-energy-commission/public-comment-meetings or send a hard copy to DENR-Division of Energy, Mineral, and Land Resources, Attn: Oil and Gas Program, 1612 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1612. 

The proposed rules are available at the website listed above.

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