Community, board debate drilling

Stokes County NAACP President Rev. Gregory Harriston sings as part of a protest against Walnut Cove’s decision to allow a core sample to be drilled to asses the potential for fracking in the area.

Approximately 130 people showed up at the Walnut Cove Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday night to continue their protest against the core sample drilling happening in the Walnut Tree community.

The core sample drilling, which started four days ahead of schedule on Monday, is intended to provide a clear picture of how much hydrocarbon potential, and thus fracking potential, exists in the area.

Susan Krohn, a Belews Creek resident, said the decisions made by the board impacted people living outside of the town as well, before accusing the board of not researching the issue before voting to allow the drilling in April.

“I find that a gross dereliction of the duties of your office,” she said, before proposing that the town citizens consider trying to create an amendment to the town ordinances that would allow board members to be impeached. “You only need 33 percent of the voters to get this enacted in the legislature.”

Stokes County NAACP President Rev. Gregory Harriston told the board he had submitted a letter on Monday requesting the board vote to rescind their decision during Tuesday’s meeting.

“You have already taken action to go against the will of the people,” he said. “You are voted here, voted in by the people to serve the people. You cannot serve the people if you are not doing due diligence.

“Who benefits from this drilling?” he asked. “The money that was allocated came out of tax payers pockets and the tax payers came and told you not to drill, but you allowed it anyway.

“We are here to let you know you are on call,” he added. “There is a money trail somewhere and it leads to somebody’s pockets. You as elected officials are accountable for it.”

Kyle Dalton, a Danbury resident, said she had recently visited West Virginia to see the impact of fracking first hand.

“There was not a space longer than a city block that did not have something to do with fracking,” she said. “The gas industry is like kudzu, it overtakes everything. What the commissioners have done is plant the seeds of fracking.”

Greensboro resident Caroline Armijo said she was worried that there was no disaster plan in place if the coal ash dam at Belews Creek were to rupture as a result of fracking.

“It is really, really scary,” she said. “They need to know what way to go when Pine Hall and Walnut Cove are wiped out.”

Several residents of the Walnut Tree community expressed their concerns over what they said was a lack of communication from the town.

“We met here two weeks ago and I said then that you sent us a water bill stating your town function but nothing was said about your drilling,” said Ada Linster. “You have had two weeks to walk in the neighborhood and say something to us and not one of you have shown your face. We salute the flag, but you don’t even have the decency to salute us.”

“We are concerned about how fracking will impact our health,” said Courtney Johnson. “I fear every day of how this will effect me. We want to see some insight on how this was chosen.”

“We believe in this country, but in the county we don’t believe in nothing,” said Lydia Prysock. “You all have still not sent us a letter. You still have not recognized that we are upset about this. You need to come to Walnut Tree and hear our complaints, talk to us and give us information.”

As Prysock finished the room erupted into a song of “We shall not be moved”, going through a number of verses before the majority of people marched out of the meeting.

Board responds

Later in the meeting Commissioner Sharon Conaway addressed the concerns and offered an explanation of why the board had voted to allow the core sample drilling to take place.

She said that it was too late for the town to rescind its decision, and had been as soon as the North Carolina Department of Natural resources (DENR) signed a contract for the core sample drilling.

“According to our attorney, once the contract was signed by DENR we could held liable for the cost of the project for breach of contract,” she said. The contract for the drilling is valued at over $91,000. “As I listened to the public comments tonight they seemed to be under the impression that we were misinformed about our responsibilities and the impact of fracking. We are not fracking in Walnut Cove. There is no plan on any part of any board members to engage in fracking. I do not support fracking. I was not misled when we we are asked for a core sample. I understood the implications of what the core sample would mean. I was aware it could help us or hurt us.”

Conaway said she had done considerable research on the issues and both believed and hoped that the core sample would prove that it was not financially feasible to engage in fracking in the area.

“I based my decision as an elected official to do my due diligence and to make an informed decision. That means I research and acquire the information needed to make these decisions and not make them on fear and speculation of what could happen.”

She said she had seen no evidence that allowing the core sample to be drilled would guarantee that fracking would happen, nor proof that denying it would stop the possibility of fracking, noting that the state reports on fracking potential already identified the area as a potential location.

“I have read the DENR report,” she said. “You will see there are numerous references already targeting our community. They have a table listing every single one of our wells and the volume output.”

She went on to explain that previous assessments of potential fracking basins in the state placed the Dan River Basin in Stokes County at the bottom of the list for fracking potential.

“The Deep River Basin scored 779,” she said. “The Dan River Basin scored 17. There seems to be a huge disparity between the potential in the Dan River Basin.

“If we support the core sample drilling there is the potential that it could lead to fracking at some point in the future,” she added. “But there is also the risk that even without the core sample that risk is there. There is also the possibility that the Stokes County portion of the Dan River Basin may not be economically viable to attract oil and gas exploration. If they find out there is enough to make it viable, then we can plan accordingly. If not, then we rest assured there is no longer a need for us to worry about the potential. This gives us an opportunity to get first-hand knowledge of what we are dealing with.”

Mayor Lynn Lewis and Commissioner Kim Lewis agreed.

“I am a big believer of knowing your enemy,” said Kim Lewis. “I am hoping it comes back as a dead horse.”

Conaway noted that the state regulations would make it virtually impossible for fracking to occur in Walnut Cove even if the core sample showed great potential.

“You have to have a drilling unit and that is estimated at between 400 and 600 acres,” she said. “The minimum is 160 acres. Additionally fracking is not allowed in a flood plain. There are a tremendous amount of hurdles that would have to be overcome. I think we are acting in the best interests to plan for our future and not wake up one day and find it in our backyard.”

Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.

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