Following news last week that the state legislature had passed late-night, last-minute legislation to limit the ability of localities to prevent fracking through local ordinances and moratoriums, the Walnut Cove Board of Commissioners decided to take a stand for their town Tuesday night and set into motion a process to enact just such a moratorium.
“The actions taken by the General Assembly last week were an effort to keep local governments from taking action,” said Commissioner Sharon Conaway. “They violated the public trust by discounting the legitimacy of local governments. There is a legitimate concern of whether the state can actually protect us from the impacts of hydraulic fracking and oil and gas activities. There is also a question of whether the state has the capacity to regulate it.
“We have a right to look after our community and we need to have a right to have a say in our destiny and how we develop our community,” she added. “If the state wants to make it uniform across the state then we should have been included in the discussion. These types of issues need to be discussed and debated and we need to be heard. We need to step up and say we hear you, but we respectfully disagree and we have a responsibility to our citizens.”
Conaway presented the board with a nine page, three-year draft moratorium on fracking within the town and its ETJ limits, and the board unanimously agreed to set a public hearing on the issue for the next regularly scheduled meeting on Nov. 10.
The draft moratorium goes into extensive detail about the dangers fracking may cause in the area, highlighting potential water, air and noise pollution.
After comparing the depth at which potential gas producing shale has been found at, between 98 feet and 423.7 feet, to the depths at which the town’s wells supply water, from 130 feet to 1,230 feet, the draft moratorium warns that any fracking operations would be located at the same depths as potential future water supplies for the town. The draft also notes that the town is currently having trouble meeting its water demands during peak seasons.
The draft also touches on the potential for chemicals used in fracking operations and emissions from equipment to produce hazardous air pollutants and that the noise and invasiveness of the industry could cause problems in the community.
“The introduction of a temporary and intensive extracative industry will also disrupt and divide the social fabric of local communities, compounding both the mental and physical effects of other hazards,” the draft adds.
After describing reasons why the town chose to neither take no action on the issue, citing the previous concerns, nor immediately alter town ordinances, warning that doing so with out thorough study could be ineffective, the draft sets out a clear timetable for future considerations on fracking.
“The board of commissioners will utilize the moratorium time period to conduct research and potentially engage the services of a consultant or consultants as needed with expertise in various fields which may include but is not limited to hydraulic fracking and other oil and gas development activities and their impacts on the natural resources, infrastructure, roads and social characteristics,” reads the draft.
Such a study is expected to be completed within 18 months, after which the board will spend a year developing draft conditional use ordinances to protect the community from the impact of fracking.
Similar to the moratorium passed by the Stokes County Board of Commissioners several weeks ago, any person violating the moratorium would be subject to a $500 per day fine.
Conaway said she hoped the Piedmont Triad Regional Council could help with some of the studies required to make informed decisions on potential future changes to the ordinances, noting that every community needed specific studies because of differing geology.
“We need qualified people who know the science to help us so there is credible evidence,” she said. “We have a lot of unknowns.”
Conaway noted that since the town ordinance did not currently have wording allowing for zoning for oil or gas development the town was already at odds with the new state requirements.
“There is no reason we cannot move forward with the moratorium that is proposed,” she said. “It would stand until it was actually challenged by someone. Before they could do that, they would have to receive a state permit to challenge it and then it would have to be overruled by the Oil and Gas Commission. Then we would still have an option to appeal that in a court of law.”
Prior to the discussion on the moratorium a number of speakers asked the board to consider such a move during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“At the state level they are are trying to take away the power from our local governments,” said Tracey Edwards. “We can’t let them take away the power of the people. We just want to be safe. We ask that you join us in being one voice against the state to keep the power that we have.”
David Harriston told the board that fracking “would do nothing but destroy our town and our county.”
Gregory Harriston agreed, thanking the board for considering the moratorium.
“This is an opportunity to rectify something that was done in the Walnut Tree community,” he said. “I commend you for reconsidering and thinking about what would happen if this happened. Let’s send a message to Raleigh that they don’t dictate to us how to run our government.”
But Conaway warned the crowd that the battle was not over.
“We are doing our part, but the people need to show up at the public hearing,” she said. “It needs to be counted and on the record that we have the community’s support for going through with this.”
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.