In Sanford… report from the hearing on Fracking.

20 minutes before the hearing starts, at least 100 people seated already, a solid 80% of them wearing shirts that either say “Shale = Jobs” or “JOBS powered by natural gas”…

The number of cops, sheriff deputies, and security folks would confirm that this is a contentious issue. Either that or the President is coming…

Note: the above was written in my seat at the Wicker Center, but once the hearing began, I switched to taking old fashioned notes on a pad of paper. Here are my notes/observations from the hearing.

First, the shirts that sated “Shale Yes” had writing on the back of their shirts: ‘Give NC the chance to create jobs! We can get it right.’ Below that was written “Shale = Jobs” and then reference to www.ncenergypolicyforum.com. Many of those wearing the ‘JOBS! powered by natural gas’ t-shirts arrived in a tour bus, and one of the group had communication devices on their belt and heads like they worked at Old Navy. Most of the folks in either t-shirt wearing group had stickers stating a similar message about jobs, with reference to either energycitizens.org or to freedomworks.org. Take a look at these websites yourselves, and compare to those I have shared on my reference sites page and some of the details behind the info in either the ‘background’ or ‘NC related’ categories {I’m no expert, but I have tried to provide objective information on this blog}.

The public hearing began with Robin Smith of DENR presenting the list of recommendations identified in the executive summary of the draft shale gas study. For each of the 20 recommended items, she included a brief explanation. Beyond that, she explained the absence of the consumer protection section and apologized on behalf of the partnering agency. Notice will be given when that portion of the report is complete. Once these recommendations were described, the floor was then open for public comments based on individuals who had signed up to speak.

Instead of reciting each comment, I’ve broadly categorized the comments and tallied the number of comments made under each. I’ve spelled out the comments that specifically critique the draft report, but otherwise merely included a comment or two to demonstrate the different perspectives. My numbers may be off, but they’re enough to provide some context of the feedback. By my count, 51 people commented during the hearing.

Shortcomings of the report: At least 4 comments included specific critiques of the draft report.

  • The absence of the consumer protection section must be corrected. Three different people made this comment, with two of them stating it was irresponsible to move forward with the original schedule for public comment when the section perhaps most pertinent for the public is not available for critique. (Note, each commenter commended DENR staff for the report and acknowledged that this omission and timeframe was not their fault).
  • The report grossly misses the number of farms in Chatham County. The number is closer to 1100 than the 11 cited in the report.
  • Report does not adequately assess the impact of costs on local governments.
  • Report does not adequately analyze the type of geology in the Triassic Basins, where the deposits were formed in more of a rift valley type setting and have extensive faults and igneous dikes throughout; these geologic formation often have radioactive materials associated with it, which is not addressed in the report.
  • The report does not include a section on environmental justice, which it should.

Regulation:

16 different comments were made recognizing the need for regulation. But these comments were from both sides of the issue. For example, a resident from Cleveland County wearing a ‘Shale Yes’ shirt said moving forward with hydraulic fracturing will help create jobs, so ‘do what you need to do.’ I intrepret that as make the regulations you need to make. Similarly, the chair of the Lee County Environmental Affairs Board said that protecting our water is vital, so if we do this, ‘let’s set the example in regulation of this industry.’ People also made comments about fracking ‘responsibly’ and the need for adequate funding for enforcing regulations, citing the drastic budget cuts DENR has had the past few years.

Time:

11 individuals mentioned the issue of taking the adequate time to ‘get it right.’ Here again, folks from both sides expressed this. One member of the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce said that developing shale gas in the are would be good for jobs and the economy, but that local governments will need time to prepare for a new industry. Others said outright that based on the information in the report (and as mentioned in the STRONGER report) that the state is simply not ready for the natural gas industry.

Water:

At least 11 people mentioned concern over water, both quality and quantity. Technical aspects relating to water in the report are that there is no proven treatment of flow back water of hydraulic fracturing fluid, and that the report contradicts itself by stating there is adequate surface water supply, but cites elsewhere that major tributaries frequently run dry. Several other comments included the vital, irreplaceable nature of water.

Jobs:

I counted 8 people specifically mention jobs. Several stated these jobs would be created through shale gas development here in NC, and therefore, with Lee County unemployment at 13%, moving forward is the right thing to do. However, at least two different people called attention to the seemingly low estimate of 2710 jobs cited in the report that would be the direct, indirect, and induced result of shale gas development.

Economic benefits:

8 people cited economic benefits as reason for moving forward with shale gas development. Though this is similar to jobs, the comments mentioned ‘tax revenue’ or ‘development of our natural resources’ as the greater economic benefit. At least 2 different people mentioned that the economic benefits from natural gas should be weighed against lost economic opportunities from agriculture and tourism.

Energy Independence:

At least 5 people mentioned that shale gas development in NC would help us as a country move toward energy independence. One person then refuted that natural gas would barely affect our reliance on foreign oil, and another pointed out that there is an industry push to export natural gas instead of putting toward our own needs.

Long term costs:

At least 5 people mentioned that long term costs of gas development need to be better understood and communicated so that they may be met.

Local government controls:

3 comments were made regarding the need to clearly outline what controls local governments will have.

And then there was one comment made regarding each of the following categories:

– Technology (using liquid nitrogen instead of water in the hydraulic fracturing process)

– Professional Standards, like the state has set for professional engineering services

– Alternatives for jobs and energy.

Several comments were made about not trusting industry, and dove-tailed those comments with citing the severe budget cuts at DENR limiting their reach.

Mistruths:

Though I am not an expert, there were a couple of mistruths stated at the hearing, and other comments that need a little scrutiny. The most glaring mistruth I heard was one in which someone stated that below 250 feet, you won’t find anymore water in the ground around Sanford. This is not true: look at the data provided by the Public Water Supply section of DENR that lists the well depth of public water system supply wells, and several are well beyond 250 feet. Another gentleman cited a poll that found 75% of North Carolinians in favor of shale gas development. First, I acknowledge that I mis-heard what the 75% is actually in favor of, but that is how I recall the poll being cited. I looked up the report this morning, and I don’t see any 75% figure. I do see a figure of 52% in favor of hydraulic fracturing. That is different than 75%. I also see the poll as having called 600 potential voters. That poll was done by a Republican research group, so I question the objectivity of the research questions and the pool of households polled.

See you in Chapel Hill Tuesday: much more to come on this.

BT

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