Last week, the N.C. General Assembly voted to override Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto of three bills, one of which was a bill to overturn the state’s ban on the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” for natural gas.
The proposed fracking process is of particular interest to Anson County, since one of the identified natural gas basins in the state is a large swath of land across the center of the county. Earlier this year, a group of Anson County citizens started a citizen’s action group, called Anson County’s W.A.L.L., or Protecting Water, Air, Land & Lives.
“We are very disappointed in the General Assembly,” said Denise Lee, a spokesperson for the W.A.L.L. group. “We’re tired of Republicans vs. Democrats. Why can’t they work together for the betterment of the state?”
Most of the votes for the override were along party lines. Anson’s two representatives in the General Assembly, Rep. Frank McGuirt and Sen. Bill Purcell, both Democrats, voted against the override.
“I feel that ‘fracking’ is too dangerous and there are too many questions remaining about just how safe it can be made,” Rep. McGuirt said. “Now, I realize the bill passed requires that safeguards must be in place before fracking can begin but there remains too much unknown. What is known is that fracking can poison ground water and endanger crops, livestock, poultry and, of course, humans.”
In a statement, N.C. Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) called the governor’s vetoes “reckless,” and said: “I am thankful there are some courageous Democrats who have put aside partisan politics in an effort to continue moving this state forward. It is unfortunate that Gov. Perdue and Lt. Gov. Dalton remain so transfixed by their defunct tax-and-spend worldview that they could not do the same. Today, the will of the voters prevailed over a lame-duck governor’s last-ditch attempt to push her own left-wing agenda.”
The bill, titled the “Clean Energy and Economic Security Act,” establishes an oil and gas board, and will govern the process of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas within the state of North Carolina. It does set up certain safeguards, but those are not enough to satisfy most Democrats, or the members of W.A.L.L.
“I feel it was very premature,” Lee said. “I think the Republicans were just trying to be heavy-handed and show what they could do.”
Proponents of fracking in North Carolina say the practice would bring new jobs to the region. The bill, Senate Bill 820, also specifies that any county, city or town in which fracking occurs can levy a one-time “impact fee” of $30,000 for each oil or gas well within the county, city or town’s jurisdiction, which would also bring in revenue.
Lee and other members of W.A.L.L. appeared before the Anson County Board of Commissioners in March to ask the commissioners to enact a moratorium on fracking in the county, but no action has been taken. § 113-415A. of the bill states that the bill makes all “local ordinances prohibiting oil and gas exploration and development activities invalid,” meaning that even if the commissioners had adopted a moratorium, it would now be invalid.
“Our thinking is, let’s put every roadblock we can up to keep them from coming here,” Lee explained.
Lee said she’s also concerned that the amount of natural gas available in the state would only last five to six years. “So let’s destroy our environment for five to six years’ worth of natural gas?” she asked.
McGuirt shares her concern. “The five-year supply is going to discourage major petroleum companies from doing the exploration, leaving us with ‘wildcatters’ to deal with,” he said.
Since one natural gas well takes millions of gallons of water to “frack,” the process can affect water supplies. In fact, in other states that currently have fracking wells, residents who live near the wells have been filmed demonstrating that they can light running water in their homes on fire. Fracking can also affect air supply, roads (from the heavy truck traffic) and has been known to cause diseases in humans and animals who live nearby.
Lee said that natural gas corporations already have signed leases in Lee County, and Montgomery County also has a large swath of land that will be attractive to the companies, as well. “Even if they don’t come here, if they do fracking in Montgomery County, we’ll get their water because we’re downstream, and we’ll get polluted air because we’re downwind,” she said.
“By far my greatest concern is that the bill will allow private corporations to come onto Anson citizens’ private property by eminent domain and take from beneath the ground,” McGuirt said. “That simply is not right.”
The complete text of Senate Bill 820 can be found on the N.C. General Assembly’s website, www.ncga.state.nc.us, by clicking on “Find a Bill” at the top of the page, and then typing in “SB 820.”