Over 100 people concerned about fracking and coal ash in the area attended an NAACP meeting at Rising Star Baptist Church led by North Carolina NAACP President Rev. Dr. William Barber, II, on June 3.
Barber told the assembled crowd that potential fracking in the area and the removal of coal ash from the Belews Creek Steam Station were moral issues that the local community needed to organize to fight against.
“This is a civil rights issue, an economic issue, a legislative issue, a political issue, and because all of that a moral issue,” he said. “Somebody simply wants to make money off of the backs and deaths of poor communities and black communities. Stokes County blacks, whites, and Latinos, rich and poor, you need to show this nation how to stand up and fight back. It is time.
“You cannot have any victory if you do not fight,” he added.
But Barber said if the local community organized to fight the issues, they would not be fighting alone.
“I am coming back to fight with you,” he said. “I am coming back to say if you touch the Stokes County people you touch the Forward Together movement all across this state and the nation. If you touch the Stokes County NAACP you touch the entire NAACP around the nation. If you touch Appalachian Voices you touch us too.”
Barber said the state NAACP was currently negotiating with attorneys seeking out any legal actions that could be taken to address both a planned core-sample drilling in Walnut Cove to asses the area’s potential for fracking and issues with coal ash at the Belews Creek Steam Station.
“We are going to look at where we can file, the city council, the county commissioners, the senator or the fracking companies,” he said, asking local residents to sign on to be included in any possible legal action. “It does not just need to be a law action of an organization, it needs to be an action by the impacted people of this community.”
Barber also promised to speak to a number of national media outlets to try to raise awareness about the issues.
“If they want this fight it is not going to be done in the dark,” he said. “We are going to make sure this fight is televised, that the attempt to destroy the health of this community is televised. If elected officials do not want to look like they are standing up for the people they are elected to serve we are going to make sure that everybody knows it.”
How the core drilling became an issue
The NAACP became involved in the local fracking debate after the Walnut Cove Board of Commissioners unanimously agreed to allow the North Carolina Geological Survey to drill a core sample on town-owned property in the Walnut Tree community, a predominantly African-American community. The location of the drilling was suggested by the North Carolina Geological Survey, not the town commissioners.
Following that decision, over a hundred people attended the May commissioners meeting asking the board to reverse their decision.
The board declined to do so, after a motion to take further action on the issue one member, Natalie Smiley failed to get a second.
“I have a sign in my yard that says no fracking,” she said, explaining that when they voted to approve the core-sample drilling they did not realize it was related to fracking. “We were told it had nothing to do with fracking. That was the reason we voted on it. Were we misled? I don’t know.”
Commissioner Sharon Conaway said she supported the core sample drilling because the town needed to know is there was the possibility of fracking in the area.
“I understand people’s concerns,” she said following May’s meeting. “There was a popular belief that if we did not do this that we would prevent fracking from occurring ‘in Stokes County, but I am still optimistic that this report could help ease some of that burden. It could say there is not enough resources to attract those operations in Stokes. I think that there is a strong possibility that is how it will turn out.”
The core sample drilling is scheduled to begin on Friday, June 12, and last for 10 days.
The drilling is intended to determine the down dip continuity and thickness of the Walnut Cove Formation, an organic based source rock in the Dan River Basin. The sample will not evaluate the Cow Branch Formation.
According to a request for proposals (RFP) sent out by DENR, the study is part of the North Carolina Geological Society’s natural gas study of rift basins in North Carolina.
After the core sample is obtained the hole shall be closed in accordance with state law. According to the RFP the Town Fork River may be used as a water source for drilling. The RFP notes that small concentrations of natural gas may be encountered during the drilling, but adds that no gas was encountered in previous, smaller samples taken in 1981.
The total drilling operation will be conducted by Patterson Exploration Services, of Sanford, but the actual drilling will be subcontracted to Ruen Drilling our of Wytheville, Va. DENR spokesman Jamie Kritzer said the project will cost the state $91,501.50 to obtain the core sample, but that there is not currently any funding to evaluate the samples obtained.
At Wednesday’s meeting Barber and Stokes County NAACP President Rev. Gregory Harriston questioned the motives of elected officials.
“They are not about serving the interests of the people,” said Harriston. “They are about serving the interests of their own egos and they are serving the interests of special interest groups that are not concerned about our health and well being. We have people who do not want to hear from us, but we have a voice when we come together . We have a big voice.”
“Somebody is getting paid,” said Barber. “We don’t know who yet, but we are going to follow the money. Somebody stands to benefit and they stand to benefit on the backs of people they think won’t fight back and can’t fight back. I want you to know they will fight back and you are going to have a lot of help.”
Barber encouraged another strong showing of local residents at the Walnut Cove board meeting on Tuesday.
“You don’t need to just pack it, you need to run it over,” he said. He also noted that some form of civil disobedience may be need to fight the issues, but did not go into details of where, when or what that may entail. “Sometimes civil disobedience is necessary when you stand against the powers. Sometimes we have to do things to dramatize how serious it is.”
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.