Is there a ray of hope in the stampede to frack?

To the Editor:

The cage is open and the monster is on the loose. Despite promises of comprehensive safeguards for the health and safety of affected North Carolinians, Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, and Rep. Roger West, R-Marble, knocked the door off of the cage, turning loose the oil and gas industry in our state without provision for proper waste disposal of hazardous chemicals used in fracking operations or adequate provisions for long-term drilling site restoration. 

Fracking — the process of injecting under pressure, large amounts of water containing toxic chemicals into horizontally drilled wells to release natural gas — comes to North Carolina with a poor track record for health and safety, despite what proponents will tell you. Fracking requires a heavy industrial buildup, complete with giant well pads containing multiple wells, miles of tanker and heavy equipment trucks rumbling down our country roads (an estimate of 4,000 trips per well on average over the lifespan of the well), and noisy equipment that runs all night.

The North Carolina Legislature has made it a crime to disclose the chemicals used in fracking. They will tell you it’s a trade secret, but is public outcry over carcinogens — which have been definitively linked to fracking operations in other states — the real reason? 

Then comes the most devious provision of SL-2014-4. Your legislature, through Section 14 of the new law, has silenced your voice by making it illegal for any county, town or other local entity to prohibit fracking. Does that sound like democracy in America? Hardly. What’s more, it is likely unconstitutional. Take a look at Section 2 of the North Carolina Constitution: “All political power is vested in and derived from the people; all government of right originates from the people, is founded upon their will only, and is instituted solely for the good of the whole.” How then, can the local will of the people be subverted to the corporate interests of the oil and gas industry and the appointed (not elected) state board which oversees their operations?

Our legislators who so badly want fracking to begin, and those with a monetary interest in the industry will tout “energy independence,” when, in actuality, they want to build an export terminal on the North Carolina coast to sell the liquid natural gas abroad (Part VII, Sec 22). According to ABC News in Raleigh (WTVD), $20,000 of taxpayer money has been used by the Department of Natural Resources  (our regulatory agency) to market North Carolina’s LNG potential to buyers as far away as London, money that was supposed to address possible fracking problems.

Is there a way out of this deep dark fracking well? Yes there is. It is a tough, long struggle against powerful corporate interests, but New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Hampshire, Ohio, New Mexico and other states are meeting with significant success. Despite state legislatures which have behaved in a similar fashion to North Carolina’s lawmakers, towns, cities and counties in these states continue to pass local laws prohibiting fracking. In the town of Dryden, N.Y., the local prohibition of fracking has been upheld by the state Supreme Court and then the state Appellate Court in a unanimous decision. But once more, the oil and gas corporations (not the State) have taken them to court.

What does this mean to us in Western North Carolina? If we, as residents of these irreplaceable mountains, don’t want our countryside turned into an industrial zone, several actions need to happen. 

• Our will must be made known to our county commissioners and town boards most emphatically, through personal appearances, phone calls and petitions. 

• Our local officials must have the courage to act on the people’s will, writing and passing the necessary ordinances to prohibit fracking.

• There must be attorneys, preferably pro-bono, who believe strongly that this is an issue of upholding the rights of ordinary citizens under the North Carolina Constitution, and who will work to see the issue through to a successful conclusion, despite lawsuits from the oil and gas industry.

So, yes, may we all live to see another day of blue sky, blooming rhododendron and sparkling creeks. 

Doug Woodward


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