Sylva’s town board unanimously passed a resolution opposing hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, at its July 17 meeting. They follow in the footsteps of the town of Webster, which passed its own anti-fracking resolution earlier this month, and precede Forest Hills, which will consider a similar resolution in August.
The local resolutions are in response to recent state legislation that allows for hydraulic fracturing. The local measures are only symbolic, as one aspect of the state law stipulates that local governments cannot forbid fracking.
“I think we should have a stake in it because it’s our country,” said Sylva Commissioner Harold Hensley, before the board passed its resolution.
Hydraulic fracturing is a method used to extract natural gas. The process involves pumping a mixture of water and chemicals into the ground in an effort to secure the natural gas. While representatives of the natural gas industry argue that modern technology has made the process safer, critics raise concerns about such issues as groundwater contamination.
In Western North Carolina, the fracking issue has generated a good bit of interest. A community group in opposition to fracking has formed in Swain County. A question-and-answer session with a Western Carolina University geologist drew a packed house to a recent Jackson County Planning Board meeting.
This interest surrounding the issue grows despite the fact that conventional wisdom holds that Western North Carolina is not likely to have enough natural gas to make fracking operations economically feasible.
“I dunno, when it comes to big corporations, are they going to say that or are they just going to extract it anyway,” Hamilton posed to her fellow commissioners, wondering if any amount of natural gas could attract fracking. “…. money talks.”
The subject of fracking also came up during a recent Macon County Commissioners meeting. Macon’s leaders are not currently considering a resolution adopting a position on hydraulic fracturing, but Commissioner Ronnie Beale did say he would like to see meetings in the region addressing the topic. N.C. Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, a sponsor of the fracking legislation, has also previously said it would be good to arrange for informational meetings in the western portion of the state.
“I think a lot of folks are just wanting to know what it is,” Beale said. “They don’t know if they’re for or against it.”
Leaders in Swain County have made statements against the practice. Commissioners recently requested that County Manager Kevin King reach out to surrounding counties in an effort to build a local coalition against fracking in the region.
Those efforts don’t seem to have gained much traction, with only a few towns — such as Webster, Sylva, and next month, Forest Hills — formally taking up the cause. As of press time, Swain commissioners are considering their own anti-fracking resolution.
Kolleen Begley, mayor of Forest Hills, said she is encouraged to see multiple local governing boards address the fracking issue. She feels that such a collection of opposition will have more of an impact than any one individual group would have.
“The resolution itself doesn’t really hold any weight, and whether or not there is natural gas to be extracted from Jackson County it does send a message to the higher governments — a message that is more likely to be heard when it’s more than just one town,” Begley said. “A message that ‘hey, please consider including the voice of us towns and counties, whether for or against something, when making decisions that could potentially affect our jurisdictions.’”