To the Editor:
James Womack, Chairman of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources Mining and Energy Commission, would ask us to suspend disbelief when he states on a recent visit to the fracking fields of Bradford County, Penn., “… [that] I had to almost get on top of the wells before I could see them.”
In his zeal for a “win-win for everybody,” Mr. Womack has chosen not to see other aspects of a landscape under dispersed industrialization: a network of interconnected well pads, pipelines, freshwater impoundments, compressor stations, and access roads, along with artificial lighting and helicopter noise, and the millions of gallons of water needed per drill site, that accompany fracking. The oil and gas industry may be able to screen some of this “sprawl” from the roadside view, but seen from the air it’s a different story: a soul-less, ransacked nowhere.
My introduction to the fracking landscape occurred in the San Juan Basin in northern New Mexico and included the schizophrenic world of the “split estate,” whereby the landowner owns everything above the surface, and the industry owns the minerals below the surface.
This world is well documented in Josh Fox’s 2010 documentary, Gasland, a personal journey from Pennsylvania to the oil and gas boom states out West in order to understand the impacts of fracking. Gasland has become a cautionary tale for citizens in central Pennsylvania, the hub of the Marcellus fracking boom.
Fossil fuel extraction on public lands in North Carolina is not new. In 1982 citizens in Macon County formed a coalition to oppose exploratory drilling for oil in the Nantahala National Forest, and one of the critical allies in opposing drilling were hunters, especially bear hunters, who rightly feared the loss of bear habitat. This unusual alliance of hunters, conservationists, and locals eventually led to the formation of a regional environmental organization, the WNC Alliance; and to the eventual revision of USFS Management Policy for the Nantahala Forest by not permitting such exploration.
As in the struggle for voting rights, the struggle for the preservation of our public lands from industrial development never ends.
We should all understand the impacts of fracking and the ultimate loss of wildlife habitat go far beyond the current controversy of government over-reach in its undercover operation against hunters in WNC. I hope hunters will show the same passion in defending public lands from development as they did in 1982.