YADKINVILLE — It was standing room only in the gymnasium of Courtney Elementary School on Tuesday as more than 200 people gathered to express their concern about fracking. Hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking, uses pressurized liquid to break rock in order to obtain the natural gas deposits within.
Courtney resident Kathy Rigsbee, part of the recently formed grassroots group Yadkin and Davie Against Fracking, welcomed attendees, saying tongue-in-cheek that she was a “newcomer” to the Courtney community, having only lived here 25 years.
“It is a beautiful place to live and I really hope we’re able to keep it that way,” Rigsbee said. “The purpose of tonight’s program is to share information on the process known as fracking. It is possible that fracking could happen right here in our community.”
Though fracking has been a much-discussed topic in other regions of the nation, Yadkin and Davie County residents just recently joined the fray when state Sen. Andrew Brock of Davie County proposed an amendment to the state budget that would include funds for test drilling in what is known as the Davie Shale Basin, part of which extends from Davie County into the Courtney area in Yadkin County.
Brock’s budget amendment did not pass, but residents from Yadkin and Davie Counties are still concerned.
Davie County resident and anti-fracking advocate Rosalyn Fielding said she couldn’t believe that fracking was being considered for this area.
“I learned about the issue of fracking a couple of years ago, but when I read of the Davie Basin being added to the provision that Sen. Brock put into the proposed senate budget, I was shocked because I had been told this basin was so small and had such a small amount of methane in it that no one would bother with it,” Fielding said. “I decided something had to be done. I’m not a scientist, but I’m a citizen concerned about the actions of our state legislature which is one of the reasons why I’m here tonight. I’m also concerned about the legislature and their modification of laws to expedite fracking in North Carolina so I decided to try to help raise awareness about the shrinking of our personal property rights and our health and safety protections.”
Brock said in a recent interview that the primary purpose of the budget amendment was just to get the Davie Shale Basin included in studies that are being done around the state to determine if natural gas is present in certain shale basins. Brock said that while the Davie Shale Basin is one of the smallest in the country and “really, really low on the priority list,” he still wanted it included.
“That way it would be on the radar and no one would go start poking holes in the ground without knowledge of what is there,” Brock explained.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Therese Vick, of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, gave a presentation noting concerns regarding fracking from potential ground water contamination from the fluids used in the process to air pollution and even social impacts on crime that could result from an influx of transient workers at a mining site.
Following her presentation, audience members were given an opportunity to speak.
“I think we can all agree that fracking is wrong,” said John Bennes, an impassioned Davie County resident, whose comment brought cheers of agreement and applause.
“We can all agree that human beings on this planet are responsible to the planet itself,” Bennes continued, to the sound of more applause. “I’m not a very religious person in the sense of particular religions, but I think that we owe it to God, in his heavens, who created this wonderful planet to do something about it. It’s up to us. It’s not up to the politicians, it’s not up to the energy people, it is not up to the people who are getting the money for this kind of operations. It is up to us.”
During Vick’s presentation she said that the state government had passed the law allowing fracking in the state by way of loopholes and exemptions that the oil and gas industry has been given in a number of environmental laws such as the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act and others.
One audience member said she agreed with Bennes that individuals needed to take personal responsibility for the environment but that large corporations and industries had an even greater impact on the environment.
“What we can affect is such a drop in the bucket compared to what big corporations put in there,” she said. “It is our legislators who we elect to protect us and they bypass these laws as soon as they get in there. So we need to find out who has accepted this from the governor on down, who is proposing it and let’s start with the legislators. That’s one place we can affect change.”
Though no current legislators were present at the event, several candidates for the November election spoke briefly. Though she was defeated in a primary run-off, Gardenia Henley, former candidate for the U.S. 5th congressional district, was present. A former employee with the Inspector General’s office of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who worked in the ’80s on the Clean Air Act, Henley said she knew a lot of people were angry with the government right now and she said she was one of them.
“We’re going to need a little root canal. If we want to stop fracking, we’re going to have to go to the root of the problem and in my mind the root is EPA,” Henley said. “We need to keep the fire under EPA’s feet.”
Contance Johnson, a candidate for the state senate 34th district, who is running against Brock in November, commented on the beauty of the land in the Courtney community. For an area where the farming and agriculture industry is vital, Johnson said residents should do all they could to fight for more environmental protections in the region by speaking out at the upcoming public hearings regarding fracking.
John Motsinger, candidate for state senate District 31, which includes Yadkin County, and U.S. 5th district congressional candidate Josh Brannon also were present.
“I think this is just one of many issues where we are prioritizing the interests of the one percent over the interests of the rest of us. There’s no benefit to anyone besides big corporations and the one percent for fracking. We have too much of this going on in both the state level and the national level and we have to get rid of every single politician who votes in the interest of the one percent at the expense of the rest of us and I believe that so strongly that I’m running for congress against Virginia Foxx,” Brannon said to much cheering and clapping from the audience.
Meeting attendees were from not only from Yadkin and Davie counties, but also Stokes County, which has had a very active anti-fracking group for several years now, plus residents from Surry, Forsyth and others.
“I care about fracking,” said Forsyth County resident Matilda Phillips. “I don’t like it. I don’t want to see it happen in our area or in our state or anymore in our nation. I want to suggest that not only do we need to learn what it is about, we need to express it to other people, whether we are writing letters to elected people, to candidates, to the newspaper, to our next door neighbor.”
Quinn Johnson, a student from Appalachian State University, drove 70 miles to come to the meeting to learn more about fracking and how it could affect communities in North Carolina. There is a large shale basin being considered for fracking in his hometown of Raleigh also. Johnson is huge proponent of environmental responsibility and is studying engineering and he plans to work on improving battery- and electric-powered vehicles. Having spent a summer in China, he has seen first-hand the severe effects of smog and pollution and hopes others will catch on to the importance of environmental protection.
“Every decision we make affects other people and we need to be more cognizant about those things,” Johnson said. “It’s important to have a sense of self-ownership, to really feel this is your issue.”
Executive Director of Clean Water North Carolina Hope Taylor also spoke at the meeting, giving attendees more information about the policy and regulatory side of fracking in the state.
At the close of the event, attendees were strongly urged to sign petitions against fracking and also to plan to attend upcoming hearings where the public will be able to weigh in on the Mining and Energy Commission’s draft Oil and Gas rules that would govern the fracking process that could take place in the state.
Hearings are scheduled for Aug. 20 in Raleigh, Aug. 22 in Sanford, Aug. 25 in Reidsville and Sept. 12 in Culhowee. For additional information and updates on the anti-fracking movement, visit www.frackfreenc. For local events, visit the Yadkin and Davie Against Fracking Facebook page.
Kitsey E. Burns may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter @RippleReporterK.