Fracking opponents prepare for battle

It was back to school for a group of staunch fracking opponents on Friday, Sept. 5. The corner conference room in the Jackson County Public Library was a bit small for the 20 people crammed in to it, but they were ready to learn. 

“It’s all coming down now to the Mining and Energy Commission hearing, and I wanted to be here to make sure that I had all the knowledge that I needed,” said Donna Dupree, member of the Jackson County Coalition Against Fracking.

The meeting included a briefing on what, exactly, fracking is and an overview of the proposed rules from Katie Hicks, assistant director of Clean Water for North Carolina. But it also included a lesson in just how to make an impact at a public hearing. 

“The dice will be loaded against us, and what they’re going to be trying to do is to portray us as radical, eccentric people who don’t know what we’re talking about,” said Avram Friedman, executive director of the Canary Coalition, a grassroots environmental activist group. 

Friedman told the group to take care to appear relatable, rational, well-informed. A voice of reason in a world gone mad, but also a voice calling for something other than what the Mining and Energy Commission wants. 

“All we’re there to do is to improve the rules, according to him [Commissioner Jim Womack], but I would suggest we don’t follow his advice on that and tell him exactly what we want the state to do,” Friedman said. 

Which is, to not merely revise the rules but to eliminate the need for them entirely. Friedman urged the group to make it clear that they’d like to see a complete repeal of the entire fracking framework. 

Friedman then turned to the computer screen and rolled the video from the Aug. 20 public hearing held in Raleigh. 

“I just want to point out the news media is going to come. They’re not going to stay for the whole hearing,” he told the group. “To me, it’s quite obvious that these were chosen to be the first speakers.”

He indicated a pair of young men who both spoke passionately in favor of shale gas development, of the technology behind it, of the promise of jobs, of tax revenue, of energy independence, all without once looking down at a note card. 

“I would recommend, especially if you live nearby, to get there earlier than 4 [p.m.] just to get to the front of the line,” Hicks said. 

Friedman advised the group to write their comments out beforehand, practice them to make sure they read well and fall within the time limit, cite credible sources, introduce themselves and their place in the community before launching into the written statement and, above all, to keep their cool. 

“What we are trying to do is build a movement, and this is an important event within the building of that movement,” he said. 

Dupree is ready to start building. 

“It was really good to see the video and see how they got started, what people had to say and how they said it,” Dupree said. “Rather than reading your notes, being able to really look the commissioners in the eye and tell them what they need to do.”

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