RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Hundreds attended a public meeting Wednesday in Raleigh on rules for hydraulic fracturing drilling in North Carolina, with many voicing opposition and some even breaking into anti-fracking songs at the podium.
Nearly 400 people filled an auditorium at North Carolina State University for the first of four meetings during a comment period that lasts until the end of September. The state Mining and Energy Commission will analyze comments and consider revisions to the rules, which then must undergo a fiscal review before legislators have the final say.
Most speakers opposed fracking because they fear toxic chemicals could escape the wells, and they took aim at specific provisions in the more than 100 proposed rules. The commission is also accepting electronically submitted comments.
"The citizens of North Carolina are looking for you to protect us," Susan McClanahan of Chapel Hill told the members of the energy commission presiding over the meeting. She argued companies should be required to set aside money to clean up potential spills for a longer period than the rules require, and that the period for them to retain records should be extended.
Gov. Pat McCrory signed a law this summer clearing the way for permits to be issued as soon as next spring for the drilling method that involves injecting water, sand and chemicals to break apart underground rocks so oil and gas can escape.
Scientists believe pockets of natural gas exist in layers of shale under Chatham, Lee and Moore counties southwest of Raleigh, but there are disputes about how much is there.
Before Wednesday's hearing, about 70 protesters rallied on the grass outside the auditorium, with many holding anti-fracking signs and wearing shirts with anti-drilling slogans. Several police officers on horses were among the law enforcement at the venue.
Inside, a lectern was set on either side of a stage where three members of the Mining and Energy Commission sat. Each speaker was given three minutes at the microphone.
Some spoke in favor of the drilling and drew boos from the crowd.
David McGowan, executive director of the North Carolina Petroleum Council, said his group will offer recommendations to state mining officials on fracking as part of the public comment period.
He said his oil industry group is "dedicated to meeting environmental requirements, while economically and safely developing and supplying energy resources for consumers."
Michael Whatley, executive vice president of the Consumer Energy Alliance, said North Carolina manufacturers have been able to add jobs and expand operations because of affordable, domestic, natural gas.
"The CEA strongly supports development of U.S. shale resources and applauds the efforts of the state to move forward with a sensible regulatory regime to oversee production of its energy resources," Whatley said.
Many others expressed concern about fracking.
Creedmoor Mayor Darryl Moss told the commission that the rules should be revised to give local governments more control over how hydraulic fracturing is done in their communities. Moss said Creedmoor passed an ordinance in 2012 prohibiting fracking but the local law has been superseded by the fracking law passed by state legislators. Moss said Creedmoor sits in a watershed that supplies drinking water to the Raleigh area, which lies to the South.
Discussing rules governing placement of the wells, Vicki Ryder of Durham argues that such rules work well when dealing with people or entities that respect boundaries — but not with toxic chemicals. She said that the rules require wells to be hundreds of feet from homes, but studies indicate chemicals from fracking can affect pregnant women miles from drilling sites.
"We hear reports of toxic chemicals used in fracking that simply refuse to stay where they are pumped," she said, before finishing her comments with an anti-fracking song.