The Old Paths: Whose fun day is it anyway?

By Leslie Bray Brewer - Special to The Stokes News

“It was a fun day.”

Wonder who said this? Could it have been my little boy as he attended Summer Reading at the local library (unbelievably my 27th consecutive year as a mommy)? It could’ve been but wasn’t. Was it my teenage son who was a counselor for Unlimited Success’ wonderful BLAST summer science camps at local schools? Nope. My teenage daughter after yet another educational 4-H Summerfun program? Wrong again.

No doubt Stokes County has been full of fun summertime activities. And “It was a fun day” has probably been said numerous times lately by local people.

But the person who allegedly said that wasn’t talking about the wholesome activities going on around here this summer. He was talking about possibly finding evidence of natural gas in the hotly-debated core sample taken from Walnut Cove. And that man having the “fun day” was Dr. Jeff Reid, the state geologist who assured Walnut Cove’s Board of Commissioners in April that the test drilling in town would be conducted by a neutral group and was not connected to fracking.

When I read the informal notes taken by Brooks Rainey Pearson, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, at a July meeting on energy in Raleigh, I was furious at Reid’s lighthearted attitude toward a subject that has stirred up so much strife in our town. His “fun day” involved seeing bubbles from gas seeping out while rinsing the Walnut Cove core sample with soapy water to better view the rocks.

I was even angrier with the N.C. Department of Commerce Secretary, John Skvarla. At that same meeting, according to Rainey Pearson’s notes, Skvaria seemed almost frantic about securing funding to analyze the Walnut Cove core hole sample, even to the point of pushing Dr. Reid to call state leaders ASAP. Skvaria allegedly said that the budget battle was now and grease needed to be added to the wheel so that money for analyzing the Walnut Cove sample would be included in the state budget. He advised telling the Governor immediately since McCrory was having breakfast the next morning with N.C. Senate Leader Phil Berger and N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore. Skvaria himself said he was going right after the meeting to see N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Donald Van Der Vaart.

For one thing, I am very uncomfortable with the N.C. Department of Commerce and N.C. DENR being such cozy bedfellows with regard to energy resources exploration in our state. And before you say that could be a good thing in terms of making sure those entrusted with protecting our environment keep a close eye on those promoting business in our state, let me remind you that not too long ago, the head of DENR was Mr. Skvaria himself, who once said that if environmentalists got their way, “we’d live in lean-tos and wear loincloths.”

Yeah, he’s definitely the guy I want on my side when it comes to being a good steward of God’s beautiful creation.

Speaking of that creation, what everyone is so “het up” about is the 323 feet of organic-rich material located through the test drilling in Walnut Cove. So much for comments by local leaders that probably nothing would be found underground. This organic-rich material lies between 98 and 423.7 feet. In contrast, similar material in heavy fracking areas such as Pennsylvania and Oklahoma is found at much deeper depths—often many thousands of feet down and away from aquifers that supply drinking water.

The shallow depth of Walnut Cove’s potential “riches” has raised concerns about groundwater here. According to a recent article in the Winston-Salem Journal, a local DENR environmental engineer says he does not believe anyone would risk fracking at this shallow depth since the quality of well water could “easily” be affected by the process.

But before we heave a sigh of relief, let us remember that common sense quickly goes out the window when the lure of financial gain walks in the door. People have done very stupid things for money before. Although I saw some ugly landscapes in Pennsylvania’s fracking mecca, I found folks there who love fracking.

But in every single case, one of two factors was at play: either they were profiting financially from fracking or the fracking wells were not near their property. Human nature inclines us toward greed and selfishness. As long as it lines our pockets or doesn’t inconvenience us personally, let’s do it.

My young friend, Ashley Hawkins—a Walnut Cove native—has a B.S. in Microbiology and an M.S. in Molecular Biology. She recently wrote:

“[Fracking is] a band-aid on a swiftly approaching reality. We’re running out of non-renewable fuel and instead of looking for new sources of NON-renewable fuels we should be concentrating our innovation and research on RENEWABLE resources. Plenty of techniques exist; the funding for advancing these techniques…doesn’t. This is the problem with today, and it will continue to be a problem until we are faced with a crisis, because that is the only way we seem to get it through our thick skulls that we should stop thinking of the ‘five-year plan’ and start planning for the ‘100-year future.’”

Many geologists like Dr. Reid probably don’t care about Walnut Cove’s future. Many state officials like Skvaria probably care even less. So who really cares? I’m betting on Walnut Cove natives who truly love the town OR those who have moved here because they truly love our town and NOT because they have vested interests in what they can gain from our land.

Are there folks who come here with such sly motives? Is the ocean salty? Wolves in sheep’s clothing are ever roaming; things are not always what they seem.

Check the land ownership in the area off Martin Luther King Jr. Drive—near where the “organic-rich material” was found. Contrary to what some leaders have asserted, there ARE tracts of land large enough for fracking in our area. Some have been bought up by out-of-town conglomerates. Why did they want this land generally considered to be some of the poorest in town? For the mineral rights.

It will indeed be a fun day for them if a company opts to frack their land. It will be a more fun day for the majority of us if they don’t. And perhaps then Dr. Reid will confine his use of “a fun day” to a trip to Carowinds or Tweetsie.

Leslie Bray Brewer can be emailed at Her blog is at

By Leslie Bray Brewer

Special to The Stokes News

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