The audience in the Walnut Cove Senior Center erupted into thunderous applause Tuesday night after the Walnut Cove Board of Commissioners unanimously passed a three-year fracking moratorium.
But despite the fact that everyone in the room seemed to be in favor of the move, the decision did not come without some debate over the history of fracking in the town.
Several speakers, who have become regulars at the town meetings, spoke during a public hearing on the issue thanking the commissioners for considering a moratorium but also chiding the board for its earlier decision to allow a core sample to be drilled in the Walnut Tree community last summer.
“We do not want fracking in Stokes County,” said Tracey Edwards. “We have people here out of a four-letter word — love. They love their county, they love their neighbors and they want to live in peace and have a clean environment. That is all anybody really wants. We are hoping you will give us the moratorium to help us.”
The people at the local level want a voice in what affects our way of life,” agreed Linda Hicks. “The Mining and Energy Committee has formulated regulations that protects the oil and gas industry and not us, we the people. We the people all over North Carolina are tired of these dishonest, ruthless steamroller practices. We the people must take back our government.”
“Our leaders in Raleigh have made this a political issue,” said Rockingham county resident Ira Tilley. “We asked just a few months ago that you guys turn around and not allow them to drill in Walnut Cove and Walnut Tree. That request was not honored.
Last week a municipal election saw two candidates running on an anti-fracking platform unseat the two commissioners up for re-election.
Tilley noted that each of the counties in the state where fracking is a possibility had already passed a moratorium or were in the process of passing a moratorium on the practice.
Rev. Gregory Harriston told the board he was glad the town was going to pass a similar moratorium.
“We don’t let the state dictate to us how we run our government,” he said. “We plan to go to each municipality in the county to get them to be supportive of a moratorium on fracking.
“Thank you for rectifying something that we tried to prevent from the very beginning,” he added.”We support you in this ordinance.”
Commissioner Sharon Conaway, who authored the town’s moratorium, took issue with the implication that allowing core samples to be drilled had been a pro-fracking move by the town.
“As of March 17 the door was open and any developer could submit for a drilling permit in North Carolina,” she said. “At that point what was the plan. Were we going to sit back and wait until someone submitted an application?
“Back in April, this board made a decision and upheld that decision and as a result of that we have gained valuable information that this board and the county can use to go back and prevent oil and gas development,” she said. “When we were approached by DENR about drilling a core sample we saw it as an opportunity to gain knowledge that we could use to combat this problem.
“We already knew there was shale in Stokes County,” she continued. “We did not know that there was only 323 feet of shale and it was located right in the middle of our water supply. That knowledge is the best asset we have to move forward with this moratorium. We made the right decision. I would like to thank my fellow commissioners who suffered as a result of standing strong. It could be the core sample information that is the very thing that saves us.”
Conaway added that even thought the town had passed the moratorium it was only a first step in protecting the community from fracking.
“We have work we need to do to prepare for the future,” she said, noting that now that the moratorium is in place the town must do the research needed to develop ordinances that have long-term impact.
The passed 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 moratorium warns that any fracking operations would be located at the same depths as potential future water supplies for the town. It also notes that the town is currently having trouble meeting its water demands during peak seasons.
The moratorium 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 moratorium 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 moratorium 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 moratorium.
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.
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.